Athletes to Scholars: Campus Ethos and Non-cognitive Factors that Matter to Student-athletes at California Community Colleges

College athletics are the most popular extracurricular activity across American community colleges, with approximately 80,000 students participating each year. California has the highest rate of participation, with over 24,000 student-athletes annually. While California Community College student-athletes generally outperform their non-athlete peers academically, there is still a disproportionate impact for male student-athletes of color. However, there is little empirical evidence related to the educational experiences of student-athletes, making it difficult to know how institutions can best serve them. This quantitative study investigated and identified institutional factors that were significant to California Community College student-athletes’ academic success, highlighting differences related to sports participation, gender, and race/ethnicity. Using data collected with the Community College Success Measures (CCSM), this study explored student-athletes’ college experiences in terms of campus ethos––students’ sense of belonging, personal relationships with faculty, faculty/staff validation, student engagement, and welcomeness inside and outside of the classroom––and non-cognitive factors important to academic success. Analysis included independent t-tests, ANOVAs, and linear regressions. Results indicated that student-athletes’ experiences in college (campus ethos) were significant predictors of their non-cognitive factors, explaining 32.4% of the variance in non-cognitive composite for all student-athletes and 42.9% of variance for Black male student-athletes. Results also indicated that male student-athletes felt less welcomed by faculty inside and outside of the classroom than did male non-athletes, and that for male student-athletes of color, feeling welcome inside and outside of the class was the most significant predictor of their non-cognitive factors. Male student-athletes also reported significantly lower levels in their sense of belonging than did male non-athletes. While student-athlete reported greater frequency of student engagement, it was not clear if the motivation for student engagement was internal or external, or if the type of motivation changed the effect of the engagement. There were no significant findings for females. These findings indicate that male California Community College student-athletes of color are not receiving the college experiences that are meaningful to their development as scholars. This research also points to the importance of gender specific studies for community college student-athletes, as the findings for females were generally not significant.


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