Date of Award

Spring 4-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)



First Advisor

Dr. Stephen Sherblom

Second Advisor

Dr. Christie Rodgers

Third Advisor

Dr. Annie Alameda


The purpose of this mixed-methods study was to investigate ways in which participation in high school varsity athletics impacted academic success of first generation college students. Through an anonymous online survey, this study compared quantitative demographic data of first-generation college students who participated in high school varsity athletics to those who did not. In addition, the qualitative research in this study explored first-generation college student perceptions of why they have been successful during college. Athletic focus group participants were asked questions related to college transition, what they gained through athletics, and long-term academic benefits of their participation in high school athletics. Prior research correlated the relationship between participation in high school athletics and improved school attendance, grades, ACT scores, and graduation rates (Lumpkin & Favor, 2012) while the athletes were enrolled in high school. However, few studies have explored the long-term academic benefits in terms of college persistence and bachelor’s degree completion. With consideration of the academic benefits, this study pinpointed characteristics, academic behaviors, and life skills enhanced through participation in high school varsity athletics that contributed to positive college outcomes for these first-generation college students. Two first-generation cohorts were utilized in the study: (a) college students who graduated from high school in 2015 and returned for their second year of college at Suburban Private University during the fall of 2016 and (b) college seniors who graduated from high school since 2011 and applied for graduation during the 2016-2017 school year. The findings indicated that first-generation college students, who were high iii school varsity athletes have a statistically significant higher high school grade point averages and college grade point averages after two semesters, compared to college athletes and nonathletes. Also, former high-school-only athletes graduated from college in fewer semesters than either of the other two groups. Most notably, based on the sample utilized in this study, there was statistically significant evidence that there are more first generation college graduates that were former high school athletes than first-generation graduates who were not high school varsity athletes. The results of this mixed-methods study indicated a possible relationship between participation in varsity high school athletics and successful first-generation college transition to college and persistence to graduation. As the study participants expressed, their participation in varsity level athletics assisted them to be academically prepared for college when they first arrived and were self-confident that with hard work they would one-day become first-generation college graduates. This researcher believes more future first-generation college students should participate in school-sponsored athletics alongside their teammates for all four years of high school, not necessarily with the motivation of more playing time in high school or to secure an athletic college scholarship, but to enhance the personal characteristics, academic focus, and resiliency that could help them graduate from college.


Copyright 2017