How College Football Improves Quality of Entering Class Students

It might sound counter-intuitive. Having a college football team will correlate with higher academic quality entering freshmen class. We’ll break it down for you.

Applied economics research has investigated the relationship between the success of a college sports team (like a win streak or recent championship) and the increase in applicants the following year. There is also a statistically higher ACT score for the entering class. The reasoning is the university is able to convert a sports victory into a marketing tool that ensures the university receives more applicants and they are then able to be more selective of the students who are offered admission and ultimately accept.

In a recent study, Steven Caudill and a team of researchers examine a related but different question: what happens when a university decides to discontinue an existing sports program or add a new one? Do the applicants drop or increase? And do they end up with a lower or higher quality student?

They use 10 institutions that either added or eliminated college football between 1997 and 2015 in order to answer these questions. As the author states “a university’s decision to discontinue collegiate football reduces the size of its applicant pool by 32% of the size of the typical applicant pool. Our results also suggest that a university’s decision to discontinue college football reduces the quality of its incoming class by 4.7% of the value of the typical institution’s ACT composite score.”

The results align with a growing body of research that examines the relationship between sports and the size and quality of a universities incoming class. It demonstrates the unrelated connection between college athletics and the study body, but also calls attention that prospective students aren’t just picking a college for academics.

Does college football impact the size of university applicant pools and the quality of entering students?
Steven Caudill, Shannon Hourican & Franklin Mixon
Applied Economics, 2017

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