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Academic, athletics leaders to discuss impact of college sports on life outcomes

The concept of high-impact practices in higher education has been around for more than a decade. The idea behind it: Students who participate in deep learning activities that enhance their academic work will experience positive benefits later in life.

Now the NCAA and its member schools are working to consider whether college sports participation can be considered a high-impact practice in higher education. The discussion will be one of two topics explored at the first Division I Academic-Athletics Summit before the 2020 NCAA Convention.

To be classified as a high-impact practice, the experience must meet a specific set of eight criteria first identified by researchers George Kuh and Ken O’Donnell in 2013:

  • High expectations for performance.
  • Extended investment of time and effort.
  • Experiences with diversity.
  • Frequent feedback.
  • Public demonstration of competency.
  • Faculty and peer interaction.
  • Opportunities to reflect and integrate learning.
  • Real-world applications of learning.

The summit, which will bring together athletics department representatives with academic leaders, is aimed at showing both sides where they can help each other improve the student experience for student-athletes and the general student body.

“High-impact practices are different initiatives that students can engage in while they are in college that allow them to take what they are learning and move it beyond the classroom,” says Lydia Bell, NCAA associate director of research for academic performance. “These experiences have been shown to have a lasting impact post-college in areas such as workforce skills, community engagement and personal development.”

Traditional high-impact practices include experiences such as internships, service learning and studying abroad. In and of itself, athletics participation does not meet all the criteria to be a high-impact practice. But Bell said that with a little extra effort and intentionality, the experience of being a student-athlete could be classified as a high-impact practice.

Three of the criteria — interacting deeply with peers across campus (not just teammates); reflecting on their participation and how they use things in other areas and can apply them to their sport; and discovering the real-world applications like leadership, work ethic and responsibility that their participation teaches them — are not natural to athletics participation at every school. But clearly the experience provides some benefits after college.

“Using data from the National Survey of Student Engagement and comparing student-athletes to their non-student-athlete peers, in some areas like learning with a diverse group of others, high engagement with faculty, and leadership, student-athletes had higher levels of engagement across divisions,” Bell says.

A 2016 Gallup study of college alumni that compared former student-athletes with other students also found the former athletes to be experiencing significantly higher rates of community, purpose, and social and physical well-being. “Something is happening that is leading to better life outcomes for many former student-athletes,” Bell says.

Some schools and conferences already are conscious of the importance of high-impact practices and are studying ways to engage student-athletes in more of them and reduce barriers to participation. The Colonial Athletic Association has the Colonial Academic Alliance grant program, intended to help schools improve access to high-impact practices for student-athletes. Elon is a recipient of one of those grants.

Eric Hall, an exercise science professor who is the faculty athletics representative at Elon, will participate in the summit as a panelist discussing his work with high-impact practices.

“At Elon, we really want student-athletes to have the student experience. We value those experiential educational opportunities and look for ways student-athletes may be able to engage in those,” Hall says.

For example, each athletics team at the school takes a trip abroad at least once every four years with an educational component (except for football, which takes its junior class every year).

The grant at Elon allowed the school to partner with the University of North Carolina Wilmington on a study of participation rates of student-athletes in high-impact practices and ways to improve access.

“How can we increase the student part of the student-athlete experience and translate it to their careers?” Hall asks. “How can we give them the best skills to go professional outside sports? Having access to some of these deep experiences could be really meaningful.”

Academic-Athletics Summit

More than a year ago, the Division I Committee on Academics began considering ways to further integrate athletics into the fabric of higher education. One result of those discussions, the Academic-Athletics Summit, will kick off before the 2020 NCAA Convention in Anaheim, California.

The summit will focus on two topics: identifying metrics and measures of academic success in higher education that impact both the general student body and student-athletes, and exploring ways students can engage in deep learning outside the classroom through “high-impact” practices.

Predictive Retention Measures and Academic Success — In this portion of the summit, participants will consider the lessons to be learned from a wide variety of academic data collected by the NCAA. Panelists:

  • Jason Cable, senior associate commissioner for administration, Southwestern Athletic Conference.
  • David Clough, professor emeritus, Colorado.
  • Walter Harrison, president emeritus, Hartford.
  • Tom Paskus, principal research scientist, NCAA.
  • Alfred Rankins Jr., commissioner of higher education for the state of Mississippi.

Intercollegiate Athletics as a High-Impact Learning Practice — These panelists will examine how student-athletes can be involved in campus high-impact practices broadly, and then they will focus on envisioning intercollegiate athletics as a high-impact practice:

  • Lydia Bell, associate director of research for academic performance, NCAA.
  • John DeGioia, president of Georgetown.
  • Eric Hall, exercise science professor and faculty athletics representative at Elon.
  • Luoluo Hong, associate vice chancellor for student affairs and enrollment management, California State University system.
  • Grace McGuire, former Utah State student-athlete and current Mountain West Conference representative on the NCAA Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.
  • Malcolm Holland, Arizona SA.
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Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.