Researchers have raised concerns that student-athletes, particularly at the NCAA Division I-A level, will leave college unprepared for a career outside of athletic competition (Kennedy & Dimick, 1987; Murphy, Petitpas, & Brewer, 1996). Other studies have examined the social and academic struggles of student-athletes compared to other students. Student-athletes often had lower graduation rates (Lapchick, 2000), less social and campus interaction (Adler & Adler, 1991), and poor career exploration and planning beyond athletics (Lally & Kerr, 2005). Additional research suggests that student-athletes are less able to prepare for future careers due to the additional constraints of playing collegiate sports (Ferrante & Etzel, 1991; Jordan & Denson, 1990) and have lower levels of career maturity than their colleagues on campus (Blann, 1985; Kennedy & Dimick, 1987). However, very few studies have looked at student-athletes using a social capital framework.
The current study was designed to examine possible differences in social capital between college student-athletes and non-athletes. Putnam (2000) defined social capital as the fabric that connects us together through social networks, with benefits including trust, reciprocity, cooperation, and information. To assess for social capital, the five-item Social Capital Assessment Tool (Krishna & Shrader, 1999) was utilized. SCAT consists of the two elements that comprise social capital: sense of trust and reciprocating social networks.
Athletes and non-athletes were randomly selected online in the fall of 2007 from 41 BCS institutions. A total of 1702 participants responded for a response rate of 35.5%. Variables included scales for trust, social networks, social capital, overall student adjustment, future degree plans, and grade point average. Independent sample t-tests revealed only one significant difference between the two groups. Non-athlete students recorded higher scores on degree planning (t=-2.10, p<.05), that is, non-student-athletes were significantly more likely to pursue higher degrees, or finish their current ones, than were the college athletes.
The results suggest that student-athletes and non-athletes share similar views regarding their feelings of trust, social networks, and social capital on campus. The significant difference in degree planning suggests that student-athletes may still be behind their campus counterparts in areas such as academic and career planning, as has been found previously (Kennedy & Dimick, 1987; Lally & Kerr, 2005). Future research into the role of social capital and student-athletes' academic and career planning may prove beneficial for athletic and academic administrators.