Listening to the Voice of the College Athlete

The top story this fall in college sports is about state lawmakers pushing to allow athletes strike their own endorsement deals and potential NCAA reforms that may allow some athletes to make money from their names and images.

But most college athletes have much more quotidian concerns: locker rooms, academic tutors, dining, and, for one pole vaulter at the University of Nevada, birds. “Geese poop — everywhere in field site — slipping issues — tried to shovel”

The relationship between universities and their student-athletes can be complicated. They’re often getting different perks, benefits, and treatment than other students. But they also face very different responsibilities, long hours, and a schedule that can make playing a sport feel a lot like having two jobs.

The NCAA Division I manual requires colleges to conduct exit interviews with “a sample” of departing athletes about their experiences.

The Intercollegiate, a new two-person journalism venture about college sports, filed public-records requests for documents related to those interviews at hundreds of colleges. Many institutions refused to give them anything, citing student privacy, but the thousands of pages of interviews, surveys, and summaries they did get offer a fascinating glimpse into the life of the student-athlete.

Daniel Libit and Luke Cyphers highlighted some of what they’ve found so far in their newsletter:

“With so little consistency, the athlete exit interview mandate presents a kind of Rorschach test for an institution’s commitment to athlete input. The interviews can show the priorities of administrators who run college sports programs, based on what they ask their athletes, how they ask it, who answers the questions, and how those answers are used.”

A couple of things that jumped out to us:

At Michigan State, still reeling from the Larry Nassar scandal, the exit interview survey struck The Intercollegiate as trivial:

“Of its 17 mostly generic questions, not one addressed sexual assault. In fact, arguably the most probing query on the list had to do with the athletic department’s end-of-the-season swag, specifically the “jacket, plaque blanket and ring.”

Colleges have no standard way of handling this exit-interview requirement. Some do it informally. Some when athletes request it. Some never create a paper trail. Others conduct extensive surveys, sometimes with outside vendors — though that presents its own questions:

“Real Recruit’s software analytics parcels a school’s athlete respondents into categories of “Promoters”, “Passives” and “Detractors.” This necessarily raises questions about the real purpose of the input.”

Many athletes have mostly great things to say about their experience. But the documents also show a good amount of griping — some of it about facilities or safety issues like that geese poop on the field, but much of it about the divides between teams with a lot of money and those without:

“The disparity in services offered based on the sports is just outrageous,” said one UNLV athlete. “I understand that there is income disparities between each sports but it is unacceptable to see some student-athletes get dry cleaning, multiple pairs of shoes, incredible facilities, state of the art locker rooms etc. when others have to learn to live with a WW2 bunker as their lockeroom [sic].”

See all those documents and learn more about The Intercollegiate here.

— Scott Smallwood

Help Us Grow (and Double Your Donation)

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We started Open Campus to rebuild confidence in two public goods: higher education and journalism. And we’re excited to get going on that work in earnest in 2020. We’re using the money we raise through NewsMatch to help us add new expert content — like our new newsletter, latitude(s) — and to hire our first Open Campus intern. (You’ll be hearing more about her soon!)

Here’s where you can make a tax-deductible donation. Thank you!

A Social Law of Higher Education?

Thirty-five years ago, Stanford University had 6,500 undergrads. Now it enrolls just over 7,000. In the same time, the University of California at Berkeley has increased from 22,000 to nearly 30,000 undergraduates — basically adding an entire Stanford population to the campus.

Of course, there are all sorts of reasons that the most prestigious colleges in the country aren’t generally in the business of increasing enrollment (maintaining that prestige tops among them). But one factor we don’t always talk about is reaction from their neighbors.

Last week Stanford University backed off a huge expansion plan that would have added more than 2,000 beds for students and brought 10,000 additional people to campus every day by 2035. Local government leaders and the university couldn’t agree on how Stanford would mitigate the impact of all that growth on housing, school districts, and traffic. (More in the San Francisco Chronicle. Plus, this story from the campus newspaper clearly spells out the two sides.)



In Wake of Scandals, USC Radically Cuts Number of Trustees, Imposes Age Limits, Pledges More Diversity

USC trustees approved far-reaching reforms aimed at correcting the insular leadership that failed to effectively handle several scandals over the past few years

Fear of a Black Campus

An ugly campaign to force out the university’s African American president exposed racial fault lines in Macomb, Ill., where the town and the campus are closely entwined.

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Here’s How Much Time Admissions Officers in Colorado Spend on an Application

The Denver Post’s Elizabeth Hernandez is talking with students in the middle of the college-application process. She plans to write more about what it’s like through their eyes.

How Much Is a University of Michigan Degree Worth?

A university researcher collected data from hundreds of alumni as part of a pilot project with the U.S. Census Bureau to help colleges do more to quantify the value of a degree.

Recommendation Corner

No podcasts or YouTubers this week, just a simple hack for users of Google docs:

Need to create a new Google doc or a new Google spreadsheet? Don’t go to your account and follow the menus. Just type or into your browser. Bingo. Immediately launches a blank file. It’s crazy how useful this turns out to be.

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