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Data shed brighter light on DIII experience

By Gary Brown

New research on the student-athlete experience in Division III reveals a strong correlation between schools’ academic reputations and student-athletes’ college choice.

At an educational session on Thursday during the NCAA Convention, data samples from the NCAA’s own GOALS study (Growth, Opportunities, Aspirations and Learning of Students in College) and recent research from the Cooperative Institutional Research Program shed new light on what attracts student-athletes to their schools.

The findings presented at the educational session were tailored to correlate with the attributes in Division III’s strategic-positioning platform. To support “proportion” and “comprehensive learning,” research noted that a school’s academic reputation was the primary factor in college choice for athletes. Almost 70 percent of males cited that as the No. 1 driving force, while 72 percent of females said so. Respondents also noted the school’s academic offerings were at least as important as their ability to participate in sports at the school.

How and whether student-athletes are recruited also matters. Almost 80 percent of male respondents said they were recruited by at least one school (about 70 percent for females) and a high percentage of those said they would have attended that college even if a different coach were there.

The connection between the academic and athletics sides of the institution was a concern to the more-than 300 participants at Thursday’s session. Several student-athletes noted the importance of their campus visits, particularly if they were overnight – and the fact that their expectations during those visits were weighted more toward how their attendance could help them academically. Many appreciated when the coach talked about academics, though some in the crowd noted those conversations were lacking.

Some attributed that to an influx of coaches without academic duties on campus. Calvin College Women’s Athletics Director Nancy Meyer, who also is a member of the Division III Management Council, said her school still ascribes to the “teacher/coach” model, but some coaches assume that other campus departments will stress academics during their time with the prospect, leaving them to talk about the prospect’s interest in athletics during the limited time available.

The data, though – and the reaction from the audience – seem to indicate that schools would do well not to under-emphasize their academic prowess.

The data presented on Thursday also show how student-athletes regard themselves once they’ve enrolled. Division III student-athletes strongly identify as both students and athletes, though male student-athletes are likely to identify more as athletes than females.

Among other academic-emphasis findings of note was a higher devotion from women toward coursework for the sake of grades, whereas males care more about getting a job than a general education.

Division III student-athletes also report a strong sense of campus community and belonging to the campus, which also aligns nicely with the Division III strategic-positioning platform.