LIGHT AND SHADOWS ON COLLEGE ATHLETES
(Monday, June 10, 8:30 -9:15 a.m.)
May I introduce the people at the podium. To my left is Ann Marie Lawler, from the University of Florida, who is co-chair with me at this session. To my right, is associate executive director of the NCAA, Steve Morgan. If you have not read and studied Light and Shadows on College Athletes after today, you will. It is a very important and significant study and we are pleased this morning to have the author of that report. Without further ado, I would like to have Ann Marie come up and introduce our speaker this morning. We also have Steve Morgan with us for any questions that you might find appropriate relating to the report.
ANN MARIE LAWLER:
Thank you, Cedric. It's my honor to introduce Dr. Clifford Adelman, the Director of Higher Educations in the Office of Research, U.S. Department of Education. During his l2-years there, he has been responsible for the flISt of recent major national reports on the quality of the higher education. He has served on task forces concerned with higher education act and the student right to know act. Since 1988, he has been engaged in a series of research projects based on the national longitudinal study of the high school class of 1972, the results of which have been published in a series of papers. We are most familiar with the one published on Light and Shadows on College Athletes.
Dr. Adelman received his BA from Brown and his MA and PHd from the University of Chicago. Prior to
federal service, he had teaching and administrative experience at CCNY , Yale and William Paterson. Since Light and Shadows, he told me he is now called "Mr. Jock" around the office. He confesses that his highest level of sports was number three substitute on his high school tennis team. Would you please welcome, Dr. Clifford Adelman.
DR. CLIFFORD ADELMAN:
Thank you. It's nice to be here this morning. I am required, as a federal employee, to utter a few phrases before the formal proceedings begin, particularly if there are members of the press in the room, which there are. As Henry VIII said to each of his six wives, "Don't worry, I won't keep you long."
My remarks this morning do not carry the official or unofficial support or endorsement of the U.S. Department oJ Education, nor should any be inferred. My analysis and opinions are my own. That should become swiftly obvious.
Curious currents catch you in professional life and once they catch you, I'm sure you know, it's tough to swim away. Over the past year, I've acquired the reputation of being the Department of Education's resident jock, which is a rather unlikely reputation for someone with my athletic history .I never imagined I would spend so much time on the topic of intercollegiate athletics. As long as it happened, though, you're going to get a piece of my mind about it this morning.
About a year or so ago, I was studying "Time flies when you're having so much fun with us." I was studying the class of '72 and cleaning up the data base on what I thought was the richest archive ever assembled on a generation of Americans. I read in the newspaper that Bill Bmdley, Tom McMillen and some other very tall people in Congress had introduced a Bill under which colleges would have to divulge the graduation rates of athletes~ My flfSt reaction was, "Why?" Is this national legislation? Secondly, I said to myself, I'm sitting with a data base that could already answer that question. The government already has data that can answer that question. Not only that, I knew my data was bound to be more accurate than anything you're going to get from your coaches.
I played around widI dIe data and I wrote a few programs. What you got was light and shadows in which we took out of dIe whole cut of dIe generation, which was not designed as a study of athletes. We had a whole generation of high school graduates and we followed dIem for l4-years until dIey were Into dIeir early 30's. It's delightful to have dIat publication come out the same week dIey cancel dIe show. This is good marketing.
We were able to identify dIe college adIletes. We used dIeir actual transcripts, which we have, through age 30, to track dIeir careers after high school. We used all of dIe information dIey provided mondI-by-mondI of dIeir labor market experience through age 30-33. We compared dIem widI performing art students first, which I dIink is dIe be comparison of any odIer group of collegiate students. We compared dIem widI folks who played intramural adIletics but not varsity. We compared dIem widI folks who were not athletes at all in college. Lastly, we compared dIem widI everyone else. You've got to have mutually exclusive groups. There's a lot I don't know about these people, but there's a lot more that I do know.
I would like to summarize the themes of Light and Shadows so that you remember. Number one, talented
athletes enter a very special economy at a young age. The economy sustains them for a long time, whether or not they wind up as professional athletes. This is what I call a safety net economy. It provides special training, special consideration from high school to college and beyond. They receive services no matter what kind of students they are because our society values entertainment above all other pursuits and is willing to provide those services to people who entertain. Whether they are drama students or athletes.
This is a fact of our culture. It is not new in human history .The ancient Greeks honored their poets and actors in the Agora and they honored their athletes in something we now call the Olympics. These people received special consideration. The philosophers, however, were given to making the shorter speeches.
In the case of athletes, the society makes sure that everything continues to work once they enter college. Athletes are more likely than any other group of students to receive scholarships. They are more likely to enter college
directly from high school. Those who receive scholarships and enter directly from high school are more likely to graduate. It's not surprising when we looked over 12-years of transcripts that athletes graduated from college at a rate just slightly lower than everyone else. Remember, they enter college with poorer academic backgrounds in high
school, yet, they finished in time. That was the light. This was also a pattern that was particularly true for black athletes, with whom we've been justly concerned with since Harry Edwards raised our consciousness about this 20 years ago. In fact, it was far more true for them compared to. other black students. I thought that was a light part.
The shadows part of it on the educational angle is as follows; it does take athletes longer to graduate from college longer than any other group we compared them to. More seriously, however, is the curriculum they pursued along the way. It was questionable. We had students who earned 20 credits in basketball in those transcripts. We had students who earned a dozen or more credits in something called recreation internship, which means basketball.
We know there are institutions that allow that to happen in the curriculum and there are those institutions kidding the students. They certainly aren't kidding anyone else. The reporters will certainly fmd that out and you'll read it in the newspapers.
The other thing we found had to do with the economic effects of participating in athletics. At age 32 or 33, the ex-varsity basketball and football players in this sample had the lowest rate of unemployment and the highest rate of home ownership. They had an income 10 percent above whether or not they graduated. All of this is compared to whether or not they graduated from 4-year schools. That looks good. Particularly for people who came from lower socio- economic status backgrounds. It shows it works in terms of economic mobility at least until the early thirties.
Now, we know why. The coaches help the kids get summer jobs, the boosters make sure the kids get jobs after they graduate. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that, but there is that special safety net that's there for people who perform, in fact, perform a service. It has economic benefits through age 30/32. If we go back to people 40/42-years old, I suspect the former athletes will not look as good economically. Why? If you take a look at the jobs they're doing at age 32/33, they are jobs that have lower status and less opportunity for long-term mobility than students in the other groups. The only group where you can say that is not true are the performing arts students. They're continuing to struggle, but, in performing arts, you can pretend you're an actor until you are 60 or 70-years old.
Now, please don't say to me that these data are old. It's all different today, you're going to tell me. You don't know that it's different. The reason you don't is because you don't have another generation that's thirty-something. We're building another generation and close to matching them together. Unfortunately, we have to wait for this.
I found the reaction to light and shadows in the press very interesting. On the one hand, there were people who simply didn't want to believe it They wanted to reduce the issue to symbolisms. They want an anecdote. We live in a statistical century .They playa lot better than numbers do. It was very tough to get people in the press to understand that the study of the class of '72 was not undertaken as a study of athletes anymore than it was taken as a study of women. It was undertaken as a study of a whole generation of Americans. It so happens that these people went to 1,200 different colleges in this country. There were writers and commentators who didn't want to believe that athletics took place. They would rather talk about varsity athletes at Division I schools of questionable behavior only. They didn't want to believe that athletics existed or that athletes existed at other schools. If they didn't want to believe the fmdings of light and shadows, they said so.
There were the columnists who decided that I had written a ringing and almost blanket endorsement of the role of intercollegiate athletics in the history of human civilization. They saw only light and they saw no shadows. Again, we're dealing with the media who needs a single uncomplicated message. Well, let me give you a few uncomplicated messages and tell you where I'm coming from.
Six percent of all American four-year college students play varsity anything, from water polo to basketball, men and women. That means 94-percent of American four-year college students don't. If you add to those the two-year college students, the percentage of varsity athletes is even smaller. The weight of numbers alone tells you that's not very significant. These are percentages. Let me give you the slogan, 1!90 plus is more important than 10 minusl! from where I sit. As a former college dean and somebody who has taught for a great many years, I'm saying with all due respect to all of you today, I am far more concerned with the 90 percent of black students in higher educatio and not varsity athletes, more concerned with the 94 percent of white students who are not varsity athletes, and more concerned with the 96 percent of everybody else who are not varsity athletes, and 90 percent women who are not varsity athletes. From a national perspective, that's what is important.
It's for that reason that your enterprise is in more trouble today than it has been for sometime. This is what th( poll misses. People are starting to realize what a small percentage of any analytic variable in U.S. higher education accounted for by intercollegiate athletics. They are asking why is this tail wagging the dog of public policy.
The Student Right to Know Act, as you know, requires a secondary institution to publish the percentage of students who complete their education within 150 percent of time for completion. This came about because of concern about the anecdotal graduation rate of football and basketball players. This is a terrific excuse for public policy. As a result, 3,400 institutions of higher education and another 3,000 other kinds of schools in this country a going to be turning somersaults for the rest of this decade to produce data that mayor may not be used by anyone. Everyone, as a result, will graduate. Maybe we should be making sure with some students that they do graduate. But, there's a whole bunch of people who will graduate who shouldn't. As a result, we are going to do to the college bachelors degree precisely what we did to the high school diploma, which is to render it meaningless to American society .
Graduation rates tell us nothing about what people study and how well they've learned. The intercollegiate athletics establishment should not be blamed for this nation's sudden interest in credentialism. You may claim that I long as one accepts the thoughts of credential in high education, it's more important that people graduate than how long it takes them to do so. Demonstrate that intercollegiate athletics has nothing to do with times of degree. You may also ask what's the federal government doing in this business anyway?
On the surface of things, your observations would be justifiable, your objections logical and your questions sensible. The tail of intercollegiate athletics should not be wagging the dog of higher education. But, you know VI well what your business is and what it's been for a half-century. You live in a fishbowl larger than any other division of a college or university. You're in the newspaper everyday for one event of another. The biology department of your school is not in the newspapers everyday. You are. You know that your sins are going to be only reported, but they're going to be canonized in television drama. You know what role your organization and intercollegiate athletics play in American social and cultural life and if you don't know that, you're wearing a wig.
Athletic directors and coaches have learned little over this period of time and have continued to behave as thougl nobody knows anything. Is that criticism subtle enough? I hope the chairs are bolted to the floor because I'm goin! to get into more of this. No one is naive anymore. Everyone is prepared to believe everything out there that you saw in Mr. Harris' report. You can't hide anything because we know it. You are larger than life, hence, subject to judgements that are larger than life. If the judgements sbike you as irrational, they only reflect the essential irrationality of this position you fmd yourselves in.
What is that irrationality? Our society passionately believes that colleges and universities are like churches. They're supposed to pass on values and knowledge. Colleges and universities are supposed to be good people. Colleges are not banks, even though they are starting to behave that way. They have not been given licenses and charters by our society to sell products, services or entertainment. Read the licenses and charters that were given to your institutions. If you're not good historians about this, you're asking for trouble.
A German friend once remarked that the reason Americans measure everything that moves is that we don't tru each other. Sometimes it takes perspective from another culture to get your own perspective going. Our inStitUtiOI of higher education are under the measurement guns on issues ranging from indirect cost rates and, of course, the press boils that down to the image of the yacht at Stanford. But, it's going across every major university in this country. The more colleges and universities attempt to run, the more measuremen&s win be taken. A few of those measurements, as you know, are going to be valid. Very few of them will be valid, but you're going to read all ( them in the newspapers. Even fewer are going to be reliable. One of the reasons fewer of them will be reliable j because we have this great system of higher education which is huge in terms of the number of institutions. The access is terrific. Any kid who really wants to go to college can go somewhere.
Lastly, and most importantly to this analysis, is institutional diversity. We're so diverse, higher education institutions have told the American public. We are so diverse we can't even talk to each other, let alone allow
apply common measures to our operations or output. There's an old saying I leamed when I lived in Vermont, "Spread it thin, it's a long way to the ham."
Higher education as a whole is under the measurement gun for a lot of reasons. You're part of it. What is in your empire that has to be cleaned up? Not because you're going to be embarrassed in the newspapers, but because you are part of institutions of higher education. That, in turn, needs to be cleaned across the board. That includes the roles of the presidents. Presidents should not merely be interested in coming clean in intercollegiate athletics. They have to clean up other areas, as well. This includes finances, student learning and graduation.
The institutions you serve have a mission in our society that is not principally entertainment. It's far more critical to the future of the standard of living for all Americans to be diverse and to realize that your institutions are not banks. We know there's learning and discipline in athletics, whether on team or individual sports. We know that learning is valuable in the same way that discipline is valuable in teamwork of playing in an orchestra, or a rock
band, or a drama troop, or on the college newspaper staff. Those things can exist outside colleges and universities in ways that the study of organic chemistry , history , and accounting cannot. Our colleges were created for the latter and not for the former.
Athletic; directors must publicly insist on the restoration of balance in the life of their institutions. They must insist that the athletes get a genuine education and insist that their institutions work harder at the central mission in order to insure a future for our children. There are fIfty governors and a President of the United States who are going to tell you that that's the role. They did. Were you listening? Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Adelman. I would like to ask a question dtat is related to dte graduation rates. As we see more and more dtat if athletes graduate at higher rates dtan dte normal student body, do you not see that dtis is going to present a societal problem as our society begins to look at where education is going in general, when we see some of dte very low rates of graduation by dtat 90 percent which you referred to?
In many respects, it's ironic that legislation has introduced the graduation rates of athletes. I can show you that athletes graduated at the same rate as everyone else. Yet, when it's the non-athletes and the people who are not participating, where we have a more difficult task, is in the 90 percent. The legislation generated to track the fIrSt bunch actually ended up focusing on the second bunch, a totally unattended consequence, and we may have tremendous distortions in interpretation because we don't know that. We have the same issue with the NCAA in that legislation about whose definition we're going to use. Quite frankly, as most of you know the difference between Section 103 and 104, the Student Right to Know Act. Section 104 allows the NCAA definition. Section 103 is anybody's defmition or the defmition the government is charged with developing. A lot of your institutional research offices are saying why should we do figures twice. That's an issue I have to stay out of. I can't comment on legislation, but I did, didn't I?
I think the perspective is an interesting one. You recall the NCAA legislation on graduation rates was sold to the Convention on the theory that it was to pre-empt federal intervention in this area. The federal government would not proceed with legislation on its own if there was a more comprehensive graduation rate reporting program in intercollegiate athletics.
Using a defmition, which you may recall was developed in the mid-80's, just as an informational tool to college presidents so they had a better perspective on what was going on with the student side of the athletes in their programs. It was never intended as a research tool and it was merely information to feed to the presidents. Even within the NCAA, there became interest in it as research data. What does this mean? The defmition was refmed in the mid-80's. Then, when the Student Right to Know Act was initially introduced, there was a great concern about the burden that this would place on all of the member institutions, and in fact, non-member institutions. Only 800 plus of the colleges and universities in the country are members of the NCAA. Discussions were had about if the NCAA refined the legislation and made it more comprehensive, and agreed to provide that data to recruited student- athletes and others who had an interest that maybe the federal government wouldn't get involved. A convention of the NCAA adopted the more comprehensive legislation and Congress proceeded to adopt the Right to Know Act.
One of the provisions, as Dr. Adelman noted, included the definition that the NCAA had developed in an attempt to pre-empt the federal legislation, and the other did not It evolved independently of that, so, you are left with the two-defmition issue. We've had some discussions between the NCAA staff and others as to whether there's a way to resolve this matter so that there is a single definition. I don't know where that will all come out It seems at least
appropriate that the NCAA might consider getting out of the business of legislating on graduation rates, allow the federal legislation to build a field and let the federal people decide which defmition they like. Remember the perspective in which these things evolved and now we have ourselves in a much more comprehensive research eft than what was intended initially.
It seems to me today that reports come out and begin with a biased hypothesis, and one of the enlightening r of Dr. Adelman's report was some objectivity and not trying to prove something from the beginning, but to indic~ what the facts are. Dr. Adelman, we appreciate your bringing that information to us today. We hope all of you go home and read your Light and Shadows. It does require a great deal of study which provides a great deal of basic foundation information to build upon in the future. Thank you.