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Academic Services Plays A Critical Role In The Experience Of First-Year Student-Athletes

By Marcella Otto & J. Michael Martinez, Louisiana State University; Chris Barnhill, Georgia Southern University

Escalating resources allocated to collegiate athletic departments has long been a critical component of American universities. Generally dedicated to improving on-field performance, athletic departments are increasing resources dedicated to coaching, training facilities, stadium improvements, and other amenities designed to attract, retain, or train student-athletes. Away from competition, an area that has seen significant investment in both people and structures is support services.


Evolving from academic advising offices, contemporary academic advisors do much more than help student-athletes maintain eligibility. Academic advisors and other support services personnel also play a crucial role in the overall development of the student-athlete experience in various areas, including maintenance of emotional, social, and psychological needs.


Spurred by the NCAA’s Life Skills initiatives with the purpose of helping student-athletes holistically focus on three core values: academic achievement, athletic success, and personal wellbeing for a successful future, academic services serve as the conduit through which student-athletes find a balance between athletics and academics, as well as become connected to the university. Our study published in Journal of Athlete-Development and Experience (JADE) explored the impact academic services have on freshmen student-athletes.


Freshmen student-athletes are generally more susceptible to feelings of isolation than other student-athletes. They are also more likely to feel less satisfied with their institution and thus more likely to leave school. We examined how quality perceptions of academic services offered influenced freshmen student-athletes’ feelings of satisfaction, student involvement, and emotional adjustment.


Using Ko, Durant, and Mangiantini’s Scale of Service Quality for Intercollegiate Athletics (SSQIA) we measured Division I freshmen student-athletes’ perceptions of service quality regarding academic support services offered at their institution. The SSQIA measures perceptions of quality of interactions of advisors and staff, quality of the environment in which services are offered, quality of outcomes, and overall program quality.


Linear multiple regression models revealed that with the exception of outcome quality, perceptions of service quality offered in academic support offices had tremendous effects on the freshmen student-athletes surveyed. Perceptions of program quality, interaction quality, and environment quality explained approximately 88% of the variance in satisfaction, 90% of the variance in student involvement, and 85% of the variance in emotional adjustment.


Given the findings that freshmen student-athletes reported their perceptions significantly influenced their satisfaction, involvement, and emotional adjustment, athletic departments may want to evaluate offerings and programs provided in academic services. In addition to advising and tutoring, athletic departments may seek opportunities to expand life skills programs, provide mentoring, career counseling, and mental health services offered.


Freshmen, in particular, struggle with feelings of isolation which are compounded by a lack of awareness of services offered. Academic services are a point of trust for student-athletes who must adjust to a new environment. Providing services that meet student-athletes academic, social, and psychological needs through a trusted department could benefit student-athletes, further adding to their satisfaction, involvement, and emotional adjustment.


Expansion of service offerings may require additional resources in the form of specialists or restructuring of departments. Facility improvements may help improve the environment in which services are offered and additional customer service training could help improve perceptions. Benefits, in addition to improved student outcomes, could also improve retention efforts.


Overall perceptions of academic services differed based on various subgroups such as gender and team/individual sport. Female student-athletes reported higher perceptions of overall outcome and environment quality compared to their male counter partners. Female student-athletes place more importance on educational goals. Revamping student-athlete services to include additional life skill training could alter this trend. Additionally, higher scores on the environment quality dimension indicated that female student-athletes take into consideration how the athletic department as a whole influences their experience.


Team sport student-athletes are generally more agreeable, whereas individual sport student-athletes are more autonomous. It is likely that academic advisors will work more closely with or are more likely to be approached by team sport student-athletes due to the nature of their sports. With this in mind, another goal is to develop young individuals into independent citizens, which is crucial at these early stages.


Besides offering support, advisors need to incorporate strategies to encourage team sport student-athletes to understand the importance of developing independency. One should keep in mind that student-athletes are not able to rely on having support services available for the entirety of their lives. On the other hand, student-athletes participating in individual sport might be more prone to shy away from asking for help yet should not be ignored by advisors.


As pointed out in our study, the ability of freshmen student-athletes to interact and develop close relationships with their respective advisors had a positive impact on their overall satisfaction with the offered services, consequently, allowing them to feel more comfortable.


For athletic departments, it is important to be transparent regarding the services offered and to directly address each student-athlete to examine how those services could aid their overall personal development and career advancement. Freshmen student-athletes are faced with a tremendous amount of change and newly placed upon expectations. Some might be unaware as to why these services exist and the advantages they have for individuals. There tends to be a heightened focus on student-athletes who experience difficulties, however, those who adjust successfully should also be encouraged to follow-up with advisors to explore options for continued success.


We hope this work sheds light on the importance of academic services beyond the notion of keeping student-athletes eligible. A holistic approach, including proper resources and training, will have positive benefits that are far greater than ensuring all student-athletes can suit up for the next competition.


Although not measured in this study, we believe that providing high-quality academic services will continue to benefit student-athletes beyond their freshman year, creating a return on investment that can be measured in satisfaction and retention throughout a student-athlete’s career at their institution. Regardless, it is important for athletic departments to understand their population. It may be helpful to ask student-athletes at all levels for specific feedback about their experiences and with academic services offered at your institution, adjusting accordingly to try to meet the overall needs of student-athletes.


A Peer-Reviewed Journal to Highlight Best Practices In Athlete Development And Experience


By Sarah Stokowski, PhD, University of Arkansas, and Amanda Paule-Koba, PhD, Bowling Green State University


We have to admit that our journey and inspiration for starting Journal of Athlete Development and Experience (JADE) stemmed from utter frustration. We love intercollegiate athletics and we truly feel student-athletes are a unique and diverse population that add so much to the campus community. However, so often in regards to scholarly activity, the student-athlete is overlooked leaving scholars who research student-athletes without an outlet for their work. We discovered that we were not alone in our frustrations; we talked to several scholars and practitioners that felt there was a need for a journal outlet that focused on athletes.


Fortunately, we were connected with the Professional Association of Athlete Development Specialist (PAADS) who immediately partnered with us. This week, PAADS is holding a research summit in New York City where we are presenting. Despite partnering with most major professional sports leagues, the Atlantic Coast Conference is the only collegiate athletic conference to date to formalize a partnership with PAADS. We would like to encourage all athletic conferences to join the ACC in partnering with this organization.


With the support of PAADS and our institutions, JADE became a reality. Our editorial review board which conducts the peer review process includes not just academics, but current athletic administrators including Nate Bell of Vanderbilt and Eric Wood of Central Florida. We want you as athletic decision makers to read our work, and we strive to provide you with research that can help you further develop student-athletes on and off the playing field.


Student-athlete development was the topic of a recent Athletic Director U. conversation with Kevin Blue of UC-Davis and Charlie Cobb of Georgia State, with Blue stressing he places such importance on this area that he renamed the unit in his department “student-athlete outcomes”. Blue also described in detail the Aggie EVO System, a mandatory professional development program for all student-athletes he implemented, in a separate piece for Athletic Director U. Initiatives such as this is what motivates us.


JADE’s vision is to be an open-access outlet for interdisciplinary research that includes a wide variety of topics and methodological approaches to examine the development of athletes. Furthermore, JADE is unique in that we do not publish research that speaks to the issues athletes face, but rather we promote practical implications (programming) that can be incorporated on within athletic organization to improve the athlete experience.


As previously stated, we really want this to be a collaborative effort. If there are athletic administrators with terminal degrees that want to review articles, please reach out to us so we can add you to our list of reviewers. If you are conducting your own research, please consider JADE as an outlet for your work. If you have an amazing program at your institution and research that demonstrates its effectiveness, please share what you are doing by publishing in JADE. Furthermore, if you have research projects, ideas, or programs that you would like evaluated, please reach out. A summary of one of our inaugural articles, how academic support services impact the athlete experience in Division I institutions, is summarized above by the authors.