A lot of factors—like money and a good high school GPA—naturally improve one’s chances of completing college. But an analysis by WSU researchers has unearthed a few surprises, like membership in a sorority or fraternity, or participation in varsity sports.
The study, which looked at nearly 6,000 WSU freshmen enrolled in the fall of either 2002 or 2003, found varsity athletes are more than twice as likely as similar non- athletes to graduate in five or six years. Students in a fraternity or sorority were nearly three times as likely to graduate as similar students outside the Greek system.
This is important stuff, given that one-half to one-third of freshman don’t graduate in six years, depending on the school. That may have helped the project earn the “Best Poster” award at a meeting this year of the Association for Institutional Research.
It’s also something of a surprise if you’re among those clinging to certain notions about “Animal House” fraternities and the alleged oxymoron, “student-athlete.” As the Huffington Post put it, “The phrase ‘dumb jocks’ is officially bogus, at least according to a new study out of Washington State University.”
Vicki McCracken, a professor of Economic Sciences and co-author of the study, notes that there are strong statistical relationships between factors like varsity sports and graduation, but establishing causal relationships is outside the power of social science. In other words, varsity athletes tend to graduate more frequently, but it’s not possible to say they graduate because of their athletic participation.
But it is possible to speculate on why one might lead to the other.
Finances are a huge reason students stop going to college. Many athletes get financial aid, and need to maintain good grades to keep the aid. Many also have tutors, computer labs and other academic support.
Athletes can be disciplined, hard-working people. Try hitting a tackling dummy in the heat or enduring three hours of controlled suffocation in a pool.
Yet another theory: Greek life and athletic participation are measures of student engagement. Disengage, and you are lost, floundering and uninspired, making it easy to leave and do something else.
For Greeks and athletes, says McCracken, “there’s another reason for being here. It’s not just the academics.”
Feel free to join in the speculation. It’s one of the great intellectual parlor games.
And you might consider another feature unearthed by the study, a poster of which can be seen here: Just as being an athlete seems to boost one’s chances of graduating, so does being female.
Ready, set, discuss.