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2020 GOALS study results shared at NCAA Convention

Survey covering student-athlete experiences shows improvements, room for growth

During the 2020 NCAA Convention, members in all three divisions were briefed on preliminary results of the 2019 Growth, Opportunities, Aspirations and Learning of Students in College study. The GOALS study — now in its fourth iteration — will continue to inform NCAA membership discussions by providing data on the experiences of college athletes.

Faculty athletics representatives at 560 member schools across all three divisions assisted with gathering survey responses from more than 22,000 student-athletes. Questions focused on academic, athletic and social experiences. Topics covered include the recruiting process, student-athletes’ health and well-being, time commitments and finances on campus.

Initial findings from the survey include:

Impact of early sports experiences

Though balanced with similarly strong academic identities, student-athletes are developing their athletics identities well before college. Early sports specialization continues to impact outcomes. More than 50 percent of respondents in 10 sports (five men’s and five women’s) said their families had early expectations that they would be college athletes, and nearly a third of male respondents in baseball, football and basketball indicated their families expected that they would be professional athletes or Olympians. Many college athletes reported moving prior to college to enhance their athletics opportunities.

These early identities as athletes likely influence decisions during the recruiting process. While high percentages of college athletes indicate that academics played a large role in determining where to attend college, athletics remained a top driver in determining college commitments. Most respondents (nearly two-thirds) report that their recruitment process was favorable, and nearly three-quarters indicated that their academic options were as communicated.

Time demands and balance

Student-athletes report low rates of missed classes, like prior iterations of the GOALS study, and most student-athletes indicate they are able to keep up with classes during the season. Most student-athletes expressed satisfaction with the number of competitions in their sports. Generally, men in all three divisions are finding more balance in their academics and athletics, whereas women express more concerns with balance and a desire for fewer hours spent on athletics practices and competitions. In Division I men’s basketball and football, the average hours spent on athletics each week declined slightly; baseball players, however, reported increased time spent on athletics. Student-athletes in all three divisions report fewer hours spent on personal time or socializing with peers, and all athletes continue to report lower than optimal hours of sleep.

Mental health and well-being

Since the 2015 GOALS study, more male student-athletes report that their coaches are concerned with their mental health and well-being and indicate they feel comfortable talking with their coaches about any mental health issues. However, student-athletes continue to be impacted by mental health challenges, and female athletes report significantly lower levels of satisfaction in mental health services compared to men. Women’s basketball athletes reported substantially lower rates of perceived coach concern for their well-being compared with their peers. The five-year Women’s Basketball Strategic Plan — announced in April 2019 — includes a key focus on student-athlete well-being, and NCAA members and women’s basketball partners intend to reference results from this survey as they approach the issue in the coming years.

Social experiences on campus

Student-athletes report more frequent direct interaction with faculty than the general student-population, and over 60% reported forming a close relationship with faculty members. Across multiple sports, student-athletes reported increased inclusivity in team environments when compared with 2015. Respondents also report a higher sense of belonging on campus; 82% of white respondents and more than two-thirds of black student-athletes indicated they felt like a part of the campus community. Baseball student-athletes reported the highest levels of a sense of belonging. Overall, nearly three-quarters of college athletes indicated that the social environment in college was what they had expected.

Future aspirations

Across all three divisions, nearly half of student-athletes expressed an interest in learning more from coaches and administrators about how to prepare for their careers after college. Two-thirds of student-athletes intend to pursue graduate degrees, and more than half of them  participated in internships to prepare for future careers, up slightly from 2015. Across the board, student-athletes report that participation in athletics enhanced transferable skills, including personal responsibility, a work ethic, teamwork and time management, while fostering increased self-confidence and commitment to community service.

GOALS research is intended to provide NCAA members with objective data regarding the impact of college sports participation on student-athletes, supporting members’ understanding of college athletes’ experiences as they continually work to improve college sports.

Full data reports on the 2019 GOALS study will be released in the form of topical reports later this winter and spring.