NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

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February 26, 2001

Sports talent has had a significant and growing impact on college and university admissions and the academic performance of students, experts have found. That impact is even more significant at small liberal arts schools and Ivy League universities than at the larger universities -- simply because athletics directly affect a larger proportion of their students.

A study of the records of 90,000 students who entered 30 selective schools in 1951, 1976 and 1989 revealed that:

  • Athletes in intercollegiate sports make up less than 5 percent of the male student body at a large school like Michigan, but 32 percent at liberal arts colleges in the study.
  • Athletes who were actively recruited for teams had a greater advantage in admissions over others with similar SAT scores.
  • The advantage was greater for athletes than for minority students or children of alumni.
  • All athletes, whether recruited or not, entered college with appreciably lower test scores and high school grades than their classmates -- and they ended up disproportionately low in their classes.

In the 1950s, male athletes in the study did well academically and were likely to be leaders of their classes as well as of their teams. But by the 1990s, significant gaps in academic performance had appeared for both men and women.

Source: James L. Shulman and William G. Bowen (both of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and authors of "The Game of Life: College Sports and Educational Values,"), "Playing Their Way In," New York Times, February 22, 2001.


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