Digest No. 01 - November 2016

The Influence of Campus Climate on the Academic and Athletic Success of Student Athletes: Results from a Multi-Institutional National Study

Rankin, S., D. Merson, J.C. Garvey, C.H. Sorgen, I. Menon, K. Loya, and L. Oseguera. 2016. “The Influence of Campus Climate on the Academic and Athletic Success of Student Athletes: Results from a Multi-Institutional National Study.” The Journal of Higher Education, 87, 701–730.


In the abstract to this article, Susan Rankin, Dan Merson, Jason C. Garvey, Carl H. Sorgen, India Menon, Karla Loya, and Leticia Oseguera state that student athletes experience college life in a unique way. Accordingly, this article reports the findings of the Student-Athletes Climate Study (SACS). This study focused on the influence of the characteristics of students and their perceptions of the campus climate on academic success, athletic success, and athletic identity. Of these three outcomes, the academic success of intercollegiate athletes holds particular significance for CIC member institutions because of the role intercollegiate athletics plays in the fabric of small and mid-sized colleges and universities. Likewise, faculty-student interactions, one of the seven dimensions of campus climate of interest to Rankin et al., looms as important to CIC member institutions because of the institutional emphasis placed on such interactions.

Rankin et al. invited all 1,281 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) member institutions to participate in SACS, and 164 of them chose to take part in the study. A total of 8,481 student athletes completed the survey instrument designed by SACS. All NCAA Divisions and all 23 NCAA championship sports are represented in this sample of student athletes, including 2,451 individuals who participate in Division III athletics. The authors weighted this sample by gender, race, class standing, and NCAA Division to make it more representative of the total population.

The academic success of student athletes was operationalized in this study as the student’s perception of their own academic and intellectual development since enrolling in their college or university. Such an indicator of academic success fits well with the educational goals of CIC member institutions.

Discussion of the Findings

Rankin et al. used structural equation modeling (SEM) to assess the influence of various student characteristics and seven measures of campus climate on each of the three outcome measures of academic success, athletic success, and athletic identity. Through their SEM analysis, the authors found a strong positive relationship between faculty-student interactions and the academic success of student athletes. Moreover, student athletes in Division III institutions experienced greater degrees of academic success as a consequence of their higher levels of interactions with faculty members. The authors also point out that in comparison to their white counterparts, student athletes of color tend to experience lower degrees of academic success. Moreover, female student athletes reported higher degrees of academic success than did male student athletes.

Implications for Action by Campus Leaders

The pattern of findings in this study provides presidents of CIC member institutions with an academically grounded justification for intercollegiate athletics especially at the Division III level. These findings could also apply to institutions that participate in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). For intercollegiate student athletes a clear pathway exists for the attainment of academic success in the form of academic and intellectual development. Frequent interactions with faculty members afford such a pathway. Both academic and intellectual development and frequent faculty-student interactions constitute standard pillars of an undergraduate education at CIC member colleges and universities. As a consequence, a schism between athletes and academics need not exist.

Presidents and chief academic officers should work with the directors of athletes, department chairs, and chief student affairs officers to develop policies and practices that encourage student athletes to have frequent interactions with faculty members. Put differently, collaboration between academics and athletics should occur in CIC institutions. Kuh et al. (2005) delineate some ways to encourage faculty and student interactions. These include discussions about career plans, ideas from readings or classes, grades, or assignments. Working with faculty members on research projects and on various committees and student life activities are additional ways for students and faculty to interact (Kuh et al. 2005). Chairpersons of academic departments and student affairs professionals should encourage such faculty-student interactions for athletes. Put differently, student athletes should be held to the same expectations for interactions with faculty members as students who do not participate in intercollegiate sports.

The athletic department and team coaches bear primary responsibility for the encouragement of faculty members to interact with student athletes. In particular, team coaches should encourage their players to interact with faculty members in general and with their faculty advisors in particular. If a player wishes to work on a research project with a faculty member, coaches should permit occasional late attendance at practice or team meetings. If meetings with faculty members to discuss career plans or ideas can only be scheduled during team practice times or team meetings, coaches should occasionally permit athletes to be late for practice or a team meeting. Some athletic departments explicitly include programs designed to foster the personal development of athletes. Such programs should consider requiring student athletes to interact frequently with faculty members, especially with their faculty academic advisors.

Literature Readers May Wish to Consult

There are two categories of literature that readers may wish to consult to further their understanding of both student athletes and faculty member interaction. One category includes the reference cited in this review and the other category includes a reference that provides readers with an understanding of the experiences of intercollegiate athletes in Division III.

Reference Cited in This Review

Kuh, G., J. Kinzie, J. Schuh, and E. Whitt. 2005. Student Success in College: Creating Conditions That Matter. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Chapter 10 describes various approaches to encouraging faculty and student interactions.

Reference for Understanding

Bowen, W., and S. Levin. 2011. Reclaiming the Game: College Sports and Educational Values. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. The authors of this book focus on the admissions and academic experiences of recruited athletes, walk-on athletes, and other students.