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Gallup study measures long-term life outcomes of former student-athletes

Different areas of well-being were gauged

In an effort to track the long-term outcomes of past participants in college sports compared with other students on campus, the NCAA collaborated with Gallup Inc. to survey those who graduated from 1970-2014.

The goal of the study, which included interviews with more than 1,600 former student-athletes ages 22-71, was to evaluate their well-being compared with responding graduates who were not college athletes. The responses were gathered as part of the Gallup-Purdue Index, based on Web surveys conducted in 2014 with a random sample of 29,560 Americans adults.

For the survey, well-being was defined as the interaction and interdependency among many aspects of life. These elements, used to measure well-being, were developed by Gallup, a research and polling company, and Healthways, a healthcare consultant. 

  • Purpose: Liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals.
  • Social: Having strong and supportive relationships and love in your life.
  • Financial: Effectively managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security.
  • Community: The sense of engagement you have with the area where you live, liking where you live, and feeling safe and having pride in your community.
  • Physical: Having good health and enough energy to get things done on a daily basis.

In the survey, former college athletes were found to be more likely than non-former college athletes to be thriving in four of the five well-being elements: purpose, social, community and physical. In the financial well-being element, former student-athletes were just as likely to be thriving as peers who did not participate in intercollegiate sports.

Gallup categorizes people’s well-being in each of the elements as “thriving,” “struggling” or “suffering,” based on their responses. Those who are thriving have strong or consistent well-being in a particular element, while those who are struggling have moderate or inconsistent well-being in a particular element. Those who are suffering have low or inconsistent well-being in a particular element.

The study, “Understanding Life Outcomes of Former NCAA Student-Athletes,” found former student-athletes are most likely to be thriving in the purpose element of their well-being. The majority of former student-athletes (56 percent) are thriving in this element, and an even higher portion (62 percent) of those who played football or men’s basketball like what they do each day and are motivated to achieve their goals.

In the community aspect of well-being, the majority of former college athletes (54 percent) were found to be thriving, as compared to their non-former college athlete peers (45 percent). The strong response to community well-being is most likely attributable to the service efforts most student-athletes conduct during their undergraduate days, the study suggested. For example, in the 2015 NCAA Growth, Opportunities, Aspirations and Learning of Students in College survey, nearly 90 percent of current student-athletes reported engaging in community service.

In the social well-being category, the study found former student-athletes are also more likely than college graduates who did not compete in intercollegiate sports to have the support of strong social networks.

Fifty-four percent of former student-athletes reported they were thriving in social well-being, compared to 45 percent of their non-college athlete peers.

The study also found former student-athletes are more likely than other graduates to be thriving in physical well-being, which is defined as having physical health that is near-perfect and feeling active and productive every day of the week. Forty-one percent of former student-athletes said they are thriving in this area, compared to 33 percent of college graduates who were not student-athletes.

This could be attributable to student-athletes pushing themselves to physical limits that those who did not compete in college sports do not, the study noted. Often, student-athletes may have to change eating habits and do hours of conditioning and practices in order to maximize physical performance for competition.

In other areas of postgraduate life, 82 percent of former student-athletes are employed either full-time or part-time at their desired level, compared with 78 percent of graduates who were not student-athletes. Additionally, the rates of unemployment are similar for both former student-athletes and their non-college athlete counterparts (3 percent).