College and High School Sports

views updated May 18 2018


College athletics function as a minor, or preparatory, league for some professional sports, particularly football and basketball, but there is nothing minor about Americans' passion for them or about the sums of money intercollegiate sports generate. Just as college sports serve as a feeder system for professional leagues, high schools fill the same role for colleges, and schools often compete for the services of elite teenage athletes. For the most part, high school and college athletes participate in sports for their own rewards. Most of them understand that the chances of striking it rich as a professional athlete are remote. For example, out of 156,096 boys who play on high school basketball teams during their senior year, only forty-four (0.03%) will become professional basketball players. (See Table 6.1.) Regardless, the money that flows through the sports industryan industry of which intercollegiate sports are an integral partis so abundant that its influence can be felt even in U.S. high schools.


In contrast to professional sports, where turning a profit is the motivating force behind most decisions, college sports must reconcile commercial interests, educational priorities, and a jumble of other influences ranging from alumni pride to institutional prestige. Even though it may make high-minded university officials uncomfortable to admit it, college sports have become big business in the United States.

The most important governing organization of college sports in the United States is the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), although there are other governing bodies as well.

National Collegiate Athletic Association

The NCAA is a voluntary association whose members comprised 1,282 institutions, conferences, organizations, and individuals in 2007; 1,027 of them were active member schools. (See Table 6.2.) The NCAA's main purpose, according to its constitution, is to "maintain inter-collegiate athletics as an integral part of the educational program and the athlete as an integral part of the study body and, by so doing, retain a clear line of demarcation between intercollegiate athletics and professional sports." In other words, college sports are supposed to be strictly amateur and are supposed to fulfill an educational role.

Organizationally, the NCAA's structure consists of more than 125 committees, which, since a new governance structure was adopted in 1997, have enjoyed a fair amount of autonomy. Several of these committees are association-wide, including the Executive Committee and committees having to do with ethics, women's opportunities, and minority opportunities. The rest are specific to one of the NCAA's three divisionsDivisions I, II, and IIIwhich classify the schools by the number of sports they sponsor and other factors. NCAA member schools and organizations vote on the rules they will have to follow. It is then up to the NCAA National Office staff of about three hundred to implement and enforce the rules and bylaws dictated by the members.

The NCAA's divisions are based on factors such as the number of sports sponsored, attendance at the school's sporting events, and financial support to athletes. Division I is further divided into Divisions I-A, I-AA, and I-AAA. Intercollegiate sports under the auspices of the NCAA are also divided into conferences, which function like the leagues and divisions in professional sports. The most prominent conferences, often referred to collectively as the Big Six, are shown in Table 6.3. The colleges in these conferences sponsor many sports, have big athletic budgets, and draw many fans. Table 6.4 shows that among both men and women, basketball is the sport sponsored by the greatest number of colleges and universities.

Student athletesMen's basketballWomen's basketballFootballBaseballMen's ice hockeyMen's soccer
Note: These percentages are based on estimated data and should be considered approximations of the actual percentages.
High school student athletes546,335452,9291,071,775470,67136,263358,935
High school senior student athletes156,096129,408306,221134,47710,361102,553
NCAA student athletes16,57115,09661,25228,7673,97319,793
NCAA freshman roster positions4,7354,31317,5018,2191,1355,655
NCAA senior student athletes3,6823,35513,6126,3938834,398
NCAA student athletes drafted44322506003376
Percent high school to NCAA3.00%3.30%5.70%6.10%11.00%5.50%
Percent NCAA to professional1.20%1.00%1.80%9.40%3.70%1.70%
Percent high school to professional0.03%0.02%0.08%0.45%0.32%0.07%
Division I
I-FBSI-FCSITotalDivision IIDivision IIITotal
Prior to the 2006 season, the NCAA changed the nomenclature for its top two football divisions, though the labels I-A and I-AA are still used informally. FBS is Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly known as I-A. It includes teams in major divisions that compete for berths in bowl games. FBC, fomerly known as I-AA, is Football Championship Subdivision. Its national champion is determined through a playoff system.
Active member
An active member is a four-year college or university or a two-year upper-level collegiate institution accredited by the appropriate regional accrediting agency and duly elected to active membership under the provisions of the association bylaws. Active members have the right to compete in NCAA championships, to vote on legislation and other issues before the association, and to enjoy other privileges of membership designated in the constitution and bylaws of the association.
Provisional member
A provisional member is a four-year college or university or a two-year upper-level collegiate institution accredited by the appropriate regional accrediting agency and that has applied for active membership in the association. Provisional membership is a prerequisite for active membership in the association. The institution shall be elected to provisional membership under the bylaws of the association. Provisional members shall receive all publications and mailings received by active members in addition to other privileges designated in the constitution and bylaws of the association. Provisional membership is limited to a three-year period.
Member conference
A member conference is a group of colleges and/or universities that conducts competition among its members and determines a conference champion in one or more sports (in which the NCAA conducts championships or for which it is responsible for providing playing rules for intercollegiate competition), duly elected to conference membership under the provisions of the bylaws of the association. A member conference is entitled to all of the privileges of active members except the right to compete in NCAA championships. Only those conferences that meet specific criteria as competitive and legislative bodies and minimum standards related to size and division status are permitted to vote on legislation or other issues before the association.
Affiliated member
An affiliated member is a nonprofit group or association whose function and purpose are directly related to one or more sports in which the NCAA conducts championships, duly elected to affiliated membership under the provisions of the association bylaws. An affiliated member is entitled to be represented by one nonvoting delegate at any NCAA convention and enjoys other privileges as designated by the bylaws of the association.
Corresponding member
A corresponding member is an institution, a nonprofit organization or a conference that is not eligible for active, provisional, conference or affiliated membership and desires to receive membership publications and mailings. A corresponding member duly elected under the provision of the association bylaws receives all publications and mailings received by the general NCAA membership and is not otherwise entitled to any membership privileges.
Voting conference11101031224396
Nonvoting conference03182111335

History of the NCAA

Up until the middle of the nineteenth century, there was no governing body that oversaw intercollegiate athletics. Typically, it was students rather than faculty or administrators who ran the programs. Even so, there was already a fair amount of commercialization and illicit

Atlantic Coast conference (ACC)
Boston College
Clemson University
Duke University
Florida State University
George Tech
University of Maryland
University of Miami
University of North Carolina
North Carolina State University
University of Virginia
Virginia Tech
Wake Forest University
Big East conference
University of Cincinnati
University of Connecticut
DePaul University
Georgetown University
University of Louisville
Marquette University
University of Notre Dame
University of Pittsburgh
Providence College
Rutgers University
St. John's University
Seton Hall University
University of South Florida
Syracuse University
Villanova University
West Virginia University
Big Ten conference
University of Illinois
Indiana University
University of Iowa
University of Michigan
Michigan State University
University of Minnesota
Northwestern University
Ohio State University
Pennsylvania State University
Purdue University
University of Wisconsin
Big 12 conference
Baylor University
University of Colorado
Iowa State University
University of Kansas
Kansas State University
University of Missouri
University of Nebraska
University of Oklahoma
Oklahoma State University
University of Texas
Texas A&M University
Texas Tech
Pacific-10 conference (Pac-10)
University of Arizona
Arizona State University
University of California, Berkeley (Cal)
University of Oregon
Oregon State University
Stanford University
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
University of Southern California
University of Washington
Washington State University

professionalism in college sports. For example, James Hogan (18761910), the captain of the Yale football team in 1904, was compensated with, among other things, a

Southeastern conference (SEC)
University of Alabama
University of Arkansas
Auburn University
University of Florida
University of Georgia
University of Kentucky
Louisiana State University
University of Mississippi (Ole Miss)
Mississippi State University
University of South Carolina
University of Tennessee
Vanderbilt University

suite of rooms in the dorm, free University Club meals, profits from the sale of programs, and a ten-day vacation to Cuba. However, what finally led administrators to the conclusion that formal oversight was necessary was the sheer brutality of college sports, particularly football. According to The Business of Sports (2004), edited by Scott R. Rosner and Kenneth L. Shropshire, there were at least eighteen deaths and more than one hundred major injuries in intercollegiate football in 1905 alone. In response to the growing violence of college football, President Theodore Roosevelt (18581919) convened a White House conference of representatives from Harvard, Princeton, and Yale universities to review the rules of the game. When the deaths and serious injuries continued, Henry M. Mac-Cracken (18401918), the chancellor of the University of the City of New York (now New York University), called for a national gathering of representatives from the major football schools. In early December 1905 representatives of thirteen schools, including West Point, Columbia, and the University of Kansas, met with MacCracken and formed a Rules Committee. This group held another meeting on December 28 that was attended by representatives of more than sixty college football programs, during which the Intercollegiate Athletic Association (IAA) was formed. The IAA was a national organization with sixty-two founding members, including schools in Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas. The IAA became the NCAA in 1910.

Initially, the NCAA did not really govern college sports. Its chief role was simply to make rules to keep the sports safe and fair. It also served as a forum for discussion of any other issues that happened to arise in the world of intercollegiate athletics, such as the formation of conferences and the transition of oversight responsibilities from students to faculty. In 1921 the NCAA organized its first national championship, the National Collegiate Track and Field Championships. More championships in other sports followed, as did an increasingly complex bureaucracy featuring additional rules committees.

Note: FBS Football Bowl Subdivision; FCS Football Championship Subdivision
Cross country297246358901322275378975
Field hockey7826155259
        (I-FBS 118)
        (I-FCS 116)
Ice hockey587701353324378
Track, indoor241117223581290127230647
Track, outdoor262164254680302173259734
Water polo215154131102061

By the 1920s college athletics were firmly entrenched both as an integral part of college life and as a subject of intense public interest. Along with this interest came creeping commercialism. In 1929 the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Education issued a major report on college sports, which stated that "a change of values is needed in a field that is sodden with the commercial and the material and the vested interests that these forces have created. Commercialism in college athletics must be diminished and college sport must rise to a point where it is esteemed primarily and sincerely for the opportunities it affords to mature youth."

In response to the Carnegie report, token attempts were made to reduce commercial influences on college sports, but the trend continued. A dramatic increase in access to higher education following World War II (19391945) further accelerated both interest in and commercialization of college athletics. A series of gambling scandals and questionable recruiting incidents finally moved the NCAA to act. In 1948 the NCAA adopted the Sanity Code, which established guidelines for recruiting and limited financial aid. In addition, the code set academic standards for players and defined the status of college athletes as amateursthat is, those "to whom athletics is an avocation." The NCAA also created a Constitutional Compliance Committee to enforce the Sanity Code and investigate possible violations. The Sanity Code did not have much of an impact and was repealed in 1951. The Constitutional Compliance Committee was replaced by the Committee on Infractions, which was given broader authority to sanction institutions that broke the rules. The NCAA also hired its first full-time executive director, Walter Byers (1922), that same year. A national headquarters was established in Kansas City, Missouri, the following year. The 1950s also brought the first lucrative television broadcast contracts, which provided the NCAA with the revenue it needed to become more active. Its capacity to enforce rules expanded throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Nevertheless, the influence of money on college sports continued to grow. In 1956 the NCAA moved to regulate athletic scholarships, but the eight schools of the Ivy LeagueBrown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton, and Yalerefused to comply.

In 1973 the NCAA divided its membership into three divisions to group schools by their competitive firepower. Three years later, the NCAA acquired the authority to penalize colleges directly for violating rules, opening itself up to criticisms of unfair enforcement practices. In 1978, in response to the rapid growth in the number of football programs relative to other sports, Division I members voted to break the division solely for football purposes into two subdivisions, I-A and I-AA.

During the 1970s and 1980s major football colleges began to see that they could make more money from broadcast revenue by negotiating their own deals. A group of schools, led by the University of Georgia and Oklahoma University, began to challenge the NCAA's monopoly on negotiation of lucrative television contracts. In 1984 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in NCAA v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma et al. (468 U.S. 85) that the NCAA had violated antitrust laws. This ruling allowed colleges to start negotiating broadcast deals directly. Meanwhile, the relationship between sports and academics remained a matter of intense debate, as reports of student-athletes ignoring the first half of this role proliferated. In 1986 the NCAA implemented Proposition 48, later modified by Proposition 16 (1995), which set down minimum academic standards for athletes entering college. Among the requirements, student-athletes needed to maintain a 2.0 grade point average (GPA) in academic courses and have a Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) score of 1010 or a combined American College Text (ACT) score of 86.


More than a century after Hogan's royal treatment at Yale, payments and other special perks for student-athletes remain prevalent in college sports, in spite of the NCAA's enforcement efforts. There have been several cases of institutions and their boosters making illicit payments to players. In the early 1980s Southern Methodist University (SMU) was a football powerhouse. Its ability to attract top football players was enhanced by a highly organized system of player payments in blatant violation of NCAA rules. According to Chris DuFresne, in "Life after Death" (Newsday, December 28, 2005), the payoff system, which had been in place for decades, began to unravel in November 1986, when SMU line-backer David Stanley admitted to reporters that he had accepted $25,000 from boosters. Within days another player, Albert Reese, told the Dallas Morning News that he had been living in a rent-free apartment provided by a booster. After an investigation that turned up widespread corruption and cover-ups that went as high as the Texas governor's office, the NCAA hit the university with what became known in college sports as the death penalty. The sanctions included cancellation of SMU's entire 1987 football season and restriction of the following season to eight games.

The NCAA has not wielded the death penalty again since then. Moreover, its threat has not halted these practices on the part of boosters elsewhere. A recent high-profile case involved the National Basketball Association star Chris Webber (1973). On July 14, 2003, Webber pleaded guilty to criminal contempt related to charges that he had received tens of thousands of dollars from the booster Ed Martin while a member of the University of Michigan basketball team in 1994. Martin pleaded guilty to money laundering in May 2002. Webber's sentence, a fine of $100,000, was announced in August 2005.

Special treatment of student-athletes does not always involve money. Sometimes it comes in the form of academic breaks. In 1998 Texas Tech was penalized by the NCAA for, among other things, allowing a star running back to play despite maintaining a 0.0 GPA. David Lagesse reports in "Troubleshooting" (U.S. News & World Report, March 18, 2002) that nine Texas Tech sports departments were sanctioned after the resulting investigation, and the football team's ban from postseason bowl games cost the school an estimated $1.7 million. In "Case Study: Minnesota's Basketball Cheating Scandal" (February 15, 2003,, the Committee of Concerned Journalists reports that in 1999 a University of Minnesota employee told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that she had completed course work for at least twenty members of the school's basketball program. Four top sports officials at Minnesota lost their jobs in the resulting scandal.

One highly charged college sports scandal that developed in 2006 turned out to be manufactured. The Associated Press notes in "North Carolina State Bar Issue Formal Disbarment Order for Nifong" (July 12, 2007, that in March 2006 a stripper accused three members of the Duke University men's lacrosse team of sexually assaulting her at a party. The three students were indicted, the remainder of the lacrosse team's 2006 season was canceled, and the team coach was forced to resign. However, all charges against the players were dropped in April 2007 after many inconsistencies in the alleged victim's story were revealed, and deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) evidence came to light that did not support the allegations. It also became clear that the prosecutor in the case, Mike Nifong (1950), had employed a number of illegal and unethical tactics in his handling of the case; he was disbarred in June 2007 for fraud, misrepresentation, and withholding exculpatory DNA evidence.

College Sports Participation

The 198182200506 Sports Sponsorship and Participation Report (May 2007,, by Nicole Bracken of the NCAA, contains detailed information on participation across the full range of college sports. As of 200506, there were 393,509 student-athletes participating in championship sports at NCAA schools. Even though women's teams outnumbered men's teams, there were more men57.2% of the totalthan women actually playing on those teams. The average NCAA institution had about 375 student-athletes in 200506, 214 of them men and 161

Division IDivision IIDivision IIIOverall
TeamsAthletesAvg. SquadTeamsAthletesAvg. SquadTeamsAthletesAvg. SquadTeamsAthletesAvg. Squad
Notes: 1. Participation totals are adjusted to reflect all institutions sponsoring each sport.
2. Provisional members are included in these numbers.
3. Coed sport teams from the sports sponsorship database were added to both the men's AND women's team data. The following sports had coed teams: a) equestrian, b) fencing, c) golf, d) rifle, e) swimming & diving, f) indoor track & field and g) outdoor track & field.
N/A Not applicable.
*Coed championship sport.
Championship Sports
Cross Country3225,25816.32653,00211.33714,96813.495813,22813.8
Field Hockey771,69322.02760422.41543,17120.62585,46821.2
Ice Hockey3173023.525427.04294322.5751,72723.0
Track, Indoor28910,37135.91173,11426.62245,60525.063019,09030.3
Track, Outdoor29910,50935.11654,13225.02586,23024.172220,87128.9
Water polo3164920.91020420.42032016.0611,17319.2
Championship Sports subtotal3,30670,4372,13734,4693,70763,6779,150168,583
Emerging Sports
Synchronized swimming45112.811111.033511.789712.1
Team handball0N/AN/A0N/AN/A0N/AN/A0N/AN/A
Emerging Sports subtotal30875819650872881,943

women. Even though the gender gap has widened some since 2004, it has actually been closing since the 1980s.

Table 6.5 shows participation in women's sports at NCAA schools in 200506. According to Bracken, 10,509 women participated on the NCAA's 299 Division I outdoor track and field teams that year, the highest total of any women's sport. Nearly as many participated during the indoor track season. (These are essentially the same group of athletes; a few schools offer only outdoor track and field.) The NCAA's 301 women's Division I soccer teams had 7,630 total participants in 200506. Including all sports, both championship and emerging, 71,312 women participated in Division I sports that year. Another 34,665 women played at the Division II level; Division III had 64,549 female athletes.

Table 6.6 shows participation in men's collegiate sports in 200506. Bracken indicates that 88,085 student-athletes participated on 2,907 Division I men's teams that year. The sport with the greatest number of Division I teams was basketball, with 326. However, basketball squads are relatively small, averaging 15.3 members per school in Division I. Therefore, several other sports actually have more participants. Over twenty-five thousand men played football at either the Division I-A or I-AA level in 200506. Baseball was second, with 10,011 participants, followed closely by outdoor track and field with 9,813. Division II sports included 50,624 men participants in 200506 and Division III had 89,397. Football had the most participants at both of these levels as well.

Division IDivision IIDivision IIIOverall
TeamsAthletesAvg. SquadTeamsAthletesAvg. SquadTeamsAthletesAvg. SquadTeamsAthletesAvg. Squad
1. Participation totals are adjusted to reflect all institutions sponsoring each sport,
2. Provisional members are included in these numbers.
3. Coed sport teams from the sports sponsorship database were added to both the men's AND women's team data. The following sports had coed teams: a) equestrian, b) fencing, c) golf, d) rifle, e) swimming & diving, f) indoor track &field and g) outdoor track & field.
N/A Not applicable.
*Coed championship sport.
Championship Sports
Cross Country2994,33714.52342,81912.03464,73713.787911,89313.5
Ice Hockey581,64928.4721831.1682,10631.01333,97329.9
Track, Indoor2428,90836.81083,38231.32176,84531.556719,13533.7
Track, Outdoor2659,81337.01554,62829.92507,63430.567022,07532.9
Water Polo2151124.3916117.91527018.04594220.9
Championship Sports subtotal2,86586,6001,90750,4633,36587,8638,137224,926
Non-Championship Sports
Non-Championship Sports subtotal421,4856161741,4691223,115

Table 6.7 puts college sports participation in historical perspective. In 198182 there were 231,445 athletes competing in NCAA championship sports, all divisions; 167,055 of them were men. By 199495 the total number of athletes had grown to 294,212. About twice as much of this growth was on the women's side as on the men's. The total number of athletes had grown to 393,509 by 200506. However, it is important to note a change in the way the total is calculated: provisional NCAA members were included in the count beginning in 199596. In addition, the numbers for 199596 and 199697 were adjusted to comply with the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act, making it difficult to compare current participation numbers with data from before 1995.

Table 6.8 shows the number of sports sponsored by NCAA member schools over the same period. There were 11,025 teams in NCAA championship sports in 198182. By 199495 there were 13,799. Much more of this growth was in women's sports than in men's. The number of women's teams surpassed the men's total in 199697 and has remained higher since then. The total number of teams was 17,287 in 200506, though the same caveat pertaining to comparisons of older and newer participation data apply.

Table 6.9 vividly illustrates the trend in the number of sports offered per school since the early 1980s. Even though the overall average number of teams per college,

YearMenPercent change menWomenPercent change womenTotalPercent change total
*Provisional members are included in these numbers.
N/A Not applicable.

across all divisions, has increased slightly during this period, the gender balance has shifted. For example, in 198182 the average number of Division I teams was 10.3 for men and 7.3 for women; by 200506 the average number of Division I men's teams declined to 8.9, whereas the women's teams increased to 10.2. (See Table 6.9.) This trend is apparent in the other two divisions as well. Per Table 6.10, the average number of Division I male student-athletes per college has also declined, from 273.5 in 198182 to 269.3 in 200506, whereas the average number of female student-athletes per college has risen from 114.8 in 198182 to 218.1 in 200506.

Women's Sports and Gender Equity

Figure 6.1 graphically illustrates what has happened to the gender gap since 1991 at the Division I level. In 199192 the average number of female and male athletes per institution were 112 and 250, respectively; by 200304 this average increased to 212 for women and 261 for men. Overall, the average number of women athletes per institution grew by one hundred between 1991 and 2004, whereas the average number of male athletes grew by only eleven. In terms of average expenses, however, the gender gap has not narrowed significantly in Division I. In 199596 the average athletic expense for men's sports was $3,398, whereas for women it was $1,525a difference of $1,837. By 200304 this difference had increased, rather than decreased, to $3,091, in that $7,286 was expended on men's sports and $4,195 on women's. (See Figure 6.2.) In spite of this, considerable progress has been made in equalizing scholarship spending. In 199192 an average of $373,000 in scholarships was awarded to women, whereas $849,000 was given to men. This average increased to $1.6 million for women and $1.9 million for men in 200304. (See Figure 6.3.)

In Women in Intercollegiate Sport: A Longitudinal, National StudyTwenty Nine Year Update, 19772006 (2006,, Linda Jean Carpenter and R. Vivian Acosta of Brooklyn College examine the status of women's college athletics over a twenty-nine-year period, between 1977 and 2006. Carpenter and Acosta find that nationwide, college women have more athletic teams available to them than ever before. Since 1978 (the mandatory compliance date for Title IX) the number of women's athletic teams per school rose from 5.6 to 8.5 in 2006. There were a total of 8,702 varsity women's intercollegiate teams in the NCAA in 2006.

According to Carpenter and Acosta, the sport most frequently found in women's intercollegiate athletic programs was basketball, which was offered by 98.4% of NCAA schools in 2006. (See Table 6.11.) Basketball was

*Provisional members are included in these numbers.

the most popular sport throughout the period covered in the study. It ranked number one in 1977, when it was offered at 90.4% of colleges. The only other women's sport offered at more than 90% of colleges in 2006 was volleyball, which was available at 95.2% of NCAA schools. Like basketball, volleyball has maintained its ranking since 1977, when it was offered at 80.1% of schools.

Title IX

No piece of legislation has had a greater impact on gender equity in sports participation than Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, usually referred to simply as Title IX. In 1971 the gender disparity in sports participation was overwhelming. According to the Women's Sports Foundation, in "Playing Fair: A Guide to Title IX in High School and College Sports" (October 8, 2001,, 294,015 girls were participating in interscholastic sports programs that year, compared to 3.5 million boys. Title IX was based on the notion that unequal federal funding between genders was an illegal form of discrimination. Title IX requires institutions receiving federal fundingincluding both secondary schools and collegesto provide resources equally to male and female students. In practice, this has meant that schools must attempt to maintain equal facilities, equal coaching staffs, and a gender ratio among athletes similar to the ratio among the student body as a whole. Critics of Title IX have been dismayed by the fact that compliance has sometimes meant cuts in men's sports programs, but the biggest impact has been an explosion in the prevalence and popularity of women's sports. In 2002 President George W. Bush (1946) officially renamed Title IX the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, after the legislation's author, a congresswoman from Hawaii. However, it is still generally referred to as Title IX.

The Women's Sports Foundation (2007, notes that there is both good and bad news regarding gender equity in high school and college sports in the Title IX era. Female high school sports participation increased by 904% between 1972, when Title IX went into effect, and 2007, and female college sports participation increased by 456% during this same period. By contrast, women athletes in college received only 38% of sports operating dollars, 45% of athletic scholarship dollars, and 33% of recruitment spending in 2007. In high school, where girls represented 49% of all students, they received only 41% of the opportunities to participate in school athletics.

Women Coaches in College

One ironic consequence of the increase in the number of women's sports offered in college is a decrease in the percentage of teams that are coached by women. In 1972 women coached more than 90% of women's college sports teams. (See Table 6.12.) By 1978 the percentage had dropped to 58.2%. Acosta and Carpenter suggest that this drop was because of the rapid increase in the number of women's sports teams, which was not accompanied by a comparable growth in the number of qualified female coaches. However, the percentage has continued to fall since 1978, and in 2006 it stood at 42.4%, an all-time low. Acosta and Carpenter argue that this decline in women's representation in college coaching is due in part to discrimination and differences in the way male and female coaches are recruited. The percentage varies substantially from sport to sport. Table 6.13 shows that 60.8% of women's college basketball teams had female coaches in 2006 and 53.5% of volleyball coaches were female. However, men dominated the coaching ranks of women's cross country (19.5% women) and soccer (29.9%).

Acosta and Carpenter note that the percentage of female coaches is higher among schools at which the athletic director is also a woman. However, they also

Division IDivision IIDivision IIIOverall
*Provisional members are included in these numbers.

note that only 18.6% of NCAA schools had female athletic directors in 2006.

College Sports and Ethnicity

According to Roberto Vicente of the NCAA, in 199900200405 NCAA Student-Athlete Race and Ethnicity Report (June 2006,, the percentage of African-American male student-athletes increased from 16.3% in 19992000 to 18% in 200405. During this same period the percentage of African-American female athletes increased from 9.4% to 10.9%.

Table 6.14 breaks down sports participation ethnic percentages (all divisions combined) by ethnicity and sport. Some sports, such as lacrosse at just over 90% for each gender, are overwhelmingly white. In contrast, a substantial portion of college basketball players42.2% of men and 28.5% of womenare non-Hispanic black. The overall ethnic balance across all divisions has remained fairly stable over the last several years, among both male and female athletes. This stability is represented visually in Figure 6.4 and Figure 6.5, which trace the ethnicity percentages of student-athletes between 1999 and 2005. In these two graphs, the line representing non-Hispanic white male athletes hovers at just over 70% across the entire time span; the line representing non-Hispanic white women similarly hovers at a little under 80%. Table 6.15, however, shows that there have indeed been small increases in participation, in both genders, among African-American, Hispanic, and nonresident alien athletes. The only nonwhite ethnic category that did not show a significant increase was Native American/Alaskan. Among both genders, about 0.3% of participants have been members of this ethnic group throughout the time period.

Spending on College Sports

In "Athletic Spending Grows as Academic Funds Dry Up" (February 18, 2004,, Mary Jo Sylwester and Tom Witosky indicate that in 2004 spending on Division I sports increased at more than twice the rate of overall average university spending between 1995 and 2001. Spending on athletics, adjusted for inflation, grew an average of about 25% during this period, whereas university spending increased only 10% on average. According to Sylwester and Witosky, part of this disparity is due to increases in basic costs, such as scholarships and travel; however, a bigger factor is simply the desire by schools to have winning teams, which translates into higher

Division IDivision IIDivision IIIOverall
*Provisional members are included in these numbers.

attendance at sports events, better television ratings, and increased alumni support.

Revenue generated by university sports does not typically cover the costs of running the programs. Sylwester and Witosky state that only about forty schools had self-sustaining athletic departments in 2004. Therefore, most departments were reliant on the school for financial support. About 60% of Division I schools used student fees, usually ranging from $50 to $1,000 per year for full-time students, to help fund their athletic department.

The trend toward university-subsidized sports appears to be accelerating, leading to growing tensions between athletics and academics on the campuses of many top schools. The debate has gotten more fierce as substantial cuts in higher education funding by state governments has led many schools to eliminate jobs, downsize academic programs, increase class sizes, and raise tuition.

The NCAA actively rebuts the argument that college sports have become "big business." In "Is College Sports Big Business?" (NCAA News Online, August 29, 2005), Gary T. Brown asserts that the money that flows through college athletic programs pales in comparison to the dollars that professional sports and the corporate world overall generate. Brown notes that Myles Brand (1942), the president of the NCAA, places the blame on the media for creating the impression that college sports are all about money. For example, Brand argues that media coverage of college sports mentions the NCAA's $6.2 billion television contract, but rarely mentions the fact that the $6.2 billion is spread over eleven years. Brad Wolverton, in "College Presidents Call for Increased Disclosure of Athletics Spending" (Chronicle of Higher Education, November 10, 2006), quotes Brand as saying that the revenue generated by college sports is well spent in educationally valid ways, including the $1.2 billion spent by Division I schools on athletic scholarships in 200506 and $150 million on academic support programs for student-athletes.

In 200203 NCAA Revenues and Expenses of Divisions I and II Intercollegiate Athletics Programs Report (February 2005,, an analysis of revenue from and spending on athletic programs, Daniel L. Fulks of the NCAA states that in 1985 the average Division I-A athletic program had total revenues of $6.8 million ($6.7 million of it from men's sports) and expenses of $6.9 million ($6.2 million on the men's side). By 2003 the average sports revenue for Division I-A schools had more than quadrupled to $29.4 million, with $18.6 million of this total coming from men's sports. These schools were also typically operating in the black in 2003; average expenses were $27.2 million, $2.2 million less than average revenue.

In 2003 football ($12.9 million in revenue and $7 million in expenses) and men's basketball ($4.3 million in revenue and $2.2 million in expenses) accounted for a huge share of both the spending and revenue in Division 1-A college sports, and both produced sizeable net financial gains. (See Table 6.16.) Figure 6.6 shows the trends in football and basketball spending and revenue from 1985 to 2003 in Division I-A. The amount of surplus revenue these sports generated grew substantially during this time span. The average football revenue at Division I-A schools grew from $4 million in 1985 to $11 million in 2001, whereas expenses only increased from $2.5 million to $7 million. Table 6.17 details where Division I-A schools' athletics revenue came from in 2003. Ticket sales were the biggest source, accounting for $8 million of the total revenue.

Academic Eligibility

Incoming student-athletes must meet a set of academic standards to participate in NCAA-sanctioned sports programs. These standards vary according to the division in which a school competes. According to the NCAA, in Guide for the College-Bound Student-Athlete (2007,, Division I academic eligibility rules through 2007 require that the student:

  • Graduates from high school
  • Completes fourteen core courses: four years of English; two of math; two of science; one extra year of English, math, or science; two years of social science; and three extra core courses of English, math, or science, or foreign language, nondoctrinal religion, or philosophy
  • Achieves a minimum required GPA in core courses
  • Achieves a combined SAT or ACT score that matches the student's GPA on a special NCAA chart

These requirements are scheduled to change beginning in the fall of 2008. The new requirements include an additional year of math and an additional year of any of the previously mentioned courses. The requirements for Divisions II and III (also slated to change in 2008) are similar to those of Division I, though less stringent.

The Guide for the College-Bound Student-Athlete also outlines the rules for recruiting high school athletes, which vary somewhat by sport as well as by division. The recruiting rules for Division I are summarized in Table 6.18 and include regulations pertaining to phone contact, campus visits, and other forms of communication between coaches and prospective college athletes.



According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 56% of U.S. high school students played on a sports team in 2005. (See Table 6.19.) The percentage was higher among boys (61.8%) than girls (50.2%). Nearly 58% of white students played on a sports team. Minorities played sports in lesser proportions: 53.7% of non-Hispanic African-American students and 53% of Hispanic students played on sports teams.

Since 1971 the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) has compiled data on sports participation from its member associations. The most recent data are published in the 200506 High School Athletics Participation Survey (2006, Table 6.20 summarizes this NFHS data for 1971 through 2006. In 200506 the number of participants in high school sports reached 7.2 million. At about 3 million, participation among girls reached an all-time high in 200506. The total for boys, 4.2 million, was the second highest in the survey's history, trailing the nearly 4.4 million boys who participated in sports in 197778.

Table 6.21 shows the most popular high school sports for boys. More than one million boys participated in football in 200506. Boys' basketball had 546,335 participants, which was about half as many participants as football. Track and field (533,985), baseball (470,671), and soccer (358,935) were the third-, fourth-, and fifth-most popular boys' sports, respectively. Among high school girls, basketball was the most popular sport, with 452,929 participants, followed by outdoor track and field

Rank in 2006Percentage of schools offering sportRank in 2004%Rank in 2002%Rank in 1977%
4.Cross country89.2388.8586.5829.4
7.Track & field67.4767.4767.5546.1
8.Golf52.28 tie48.7948.41019.9
9.Swimming50.99 tie48.7852.0641.0
11.Field hockey28.01128.21027.0736.3
13.Ice hockey9.7148.8148.5241.3
Tie 15.Fencing5.9174.6165.8129.8
Tie 16.Water polo5.9156.5156.0
18.Sailing3.8213.2203.121 tie2.3
Tie 20.Squash3.4183.8213.121 tie2.3
Tie 21.Riflery3.4222.8183.8153.8
23.Synchronized swimming1.3230.5231.0183.3

(439,200), volleyball (390,034), fast-pitch softball (369,094), and soccer (321,555). (See Table 6.22.)

According to the NFHS, the state with the largest number of high school athletes in 200506 was Texas, with 742,341. Other leading states included California (678,019), New York (350,349), Illinois (323,703), Michigan (321,250), and Ohio (316,529).

Data from Lloyd D. Johnston et al.'s Monitoring the Future, National Results on Adolescent Drug Use: Overview of Key Findings, 2006 (May 2007,, an ongoing nationwide study of youth behavior and attitudes, suggest that the percentage of middle and high school students participating in school sports has generally declined over the past decade, although girls' participation has held fairly steady. A greater percentage of boys than girls have participated in school sports throughout this span. The national advocacy group Child Trends analyzed data on school sports participation from Monitoring the Future over several years, and its findings are summarized in Table 6.23. The analysis by Child Trends shows that participation in athletics among tenth-grade boys decreased from 69.8% in 1992 to 65.5% in 2004, whereas participation among tenth-grade girls increased slightly, from 56.6% in 1992 to 57.2% in 2004. This pattern was similar among twelfth graders. Child Trends finds that since 1991 the gender gap in high school sports participation has decreased substantially. Among tenth graders, the difference between boys and girls declined from seventeen percentage points in 1991 (boys, 69%, and girls, 52%) to nine percentage points in 2004 (boys, 66%, and girls, 57%). (See Figure 6.7.) Likewise, the gap for twelfth graders declined from eighteen percentage points in 1991 (boys, 65%, and girls, 47%) to nine percentage points in 2004 (boys, 60%, and girls, 51%).

Child Trends also finds a correlation between parents' education and students' participation in school athletics. Youth whose parents were better educated were more likely to participate than their peers whose parents had fewer years of education. In 2004, 73% of tenth graders with a parent who had attended graduate school participated in school sports, whereas participation among tenth graders whose parents did not finish high school was only 42%. (See Figure 6.8.)

Benefits of High School Sports Participation

In September 2005 the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) published the report What Is the Status of High School Athletes 8 Years after Their Senior Year? (, which analyzes the status of former high school athletes in their midtwenties. The report was part of the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988, which tracked a large sample of students who were seniors in 1992. This report examined their educational achievement, employment

200642.4%Women coaching women's teams
200444.1%In 1972, the year Title IX was enacted, more than 90% of women's teams were coached by females.
200144.7%By 1978, the year of mandatory Title IX compliance, the percentage had dropped to 58.25. Some of the large change in the early years from 1972 to 1978 was due to the massive increase in the number of teams offered for women (an increase from 2.5 in 1972 to 5.61 teams per school in 1978).
199449.4%Today, even though the number of women's teams is at an all time high, the representation of females among the coaching ranks of women's intercollegiate athletics is at an all time low.
198947.7%Additionally, the representation of females among the ranks of head coaches for MEN's teams remains at 2% where it has been since before the passage of Title IX.
198550.7%When we look at intercollegiate coaching as an entire workplace unit, we find that only 17.7% of intercollegiate athletics teams have a female head coach. Another way to say the same thing is to say that 82.3% of all intercollegiate teams are coached by males.
197290.0% +Women coaching women's teams.

success, and health status as of 2000. The NCES finds that elite (those who were team captains or most valuable players) and varsity-level athletes were more likely than nonathletes to have received some postsecondary education and more likely to have earned a bachelor's degree. It also finds that elite athletes were more likely than nonathletes to be employed, and employed full time, in 2000. Elite and varsity athletes had higher incomes on average than those who did not participate in high school sports. In addition, the NCES finds that high school athletes were more likely than nonathletes to participate in fitness activities and group sports eight years after their senior year. Elite and varsity athletes were less likely to be daily smokers than their nonathletic peers. The only negative impact the NCES notes is that elite and varsity athletes were more likely than nonathletes to binge drink (i.e., these survey respondents reported having five or more alcoholic drinks on at least one occasion during the two weeks before the survey).

Money and High School Athletics

The perceived corruption of college sports by money appears to have seeped down to the high school level. A series of New York Times articles by Duff Wilson and

Cross country19.5%35.2%
Field hockey94.2%99.1%
Ice hockey35.2%37.5%
Synchronized swimming100.0%85.0%
Track and field19.4%52.3%
Water polo6.1%

Pete Thamel in November and December 2005, including "The Quick Fix" (November 27) and "NCAA Calls for Investigation into Correspondence School" (December 2), reported on a Florida high school that was basically functioning as a diploma mill for elite athletes whose poor school performance threatened their chances to play at top-level universities. The school, the University High School in Miami, had no accreditation from the state, offered no classes for students to attend, and provided no real instruction. Students "attended" University High via correspondence courses, which essentially consisted of a series of open-book tests. Wilson and Thamel identified twenty-eight athletes who raised their sagging GPAs, often just enough to qualify for intercollegiate athletics, by enrolling in University High. Fourteen of them had already committed to attend NCAA Division I schools. Students paid about $400 to boost their grades in this way.

The vast sums of money involved in college sports have also led to extremely aggressive recruiting practices. According to Mark Schlabach, in "NCAA Cracks Down on Recruiting Practices" (Washington Post, August 6, 2004), high-profile recruiting scandals at two major colleges, the University of Colorado and the University of Miami, led to the creation of a special NCAA task force. The work of the task force culminated in new rules, approved by the NCAA Division I Board of Directors

American Indian/Alaskan NativeAsian/Pacific IslanderBlack, Non-HispanicHispanicNonresident alienOtherWhite, Non-Hispanic
N/A Not applicable.
Empty cells indicate the data are unavailable.
Cross country0.
Field hockeyN/A0.2N/A1.6N/A1.5N/A1.5N/A1.4N/A3.7N/A90.1
Ice hockey0.30.2O.
Synchronized swimmingN/A1.0N/A7.7N/A1.0N/A3.8N/A4.8N/A1.9N/A79.8
Team handballN/A0.0N/A0.0N/A0.0N/A0.0N/A0.0N/A0.0N/A0.0
Track, indoor0.
Track outdoor0.
Water polo0.
All sports0.

in August 2004, aimed at eliminating what Brand calls a "culture of entitlement." Previously, colleges were wooing prospects with high-priced meals and stays in luxury hotels, often transporting them to campus in expensive chartered planes and limousines. Schlabach also mentions widely reported earlier charges that colleges were plying top high-school athletes with sex and alcohol. The revised rules prohibit schools from employing any of these practices, requiring that prospects be transported from airports in standard vehicles and fed "standard meals similar to those offered on campus." They also require schools to establish policies explicitly forbidding illegal actions during recruiting, such as underage drinking and sex for hire.

American Indian/Alaskan NativeAsian/Pacific IslanderBlack, non-HispanicHispanicNonresident alienOtherWhite, non-Hispanic
*Provisional members are included in these numbers.
Men's programsWomen's programs
SportRevenuesExpensesNumber of respondentsRevenuesExpensesNumber of respondents
Note: N/A not applicable
Field hockeyN/AN/AN/A16653524
Ice hockey1,5221,169121049234
Synchronized swimmingN/AN/AN/A552893
Track & field/cross country121496108157623114
Water polo10228776831212
CategoryPublicPercent of totalPrivatePercent of totalTotal divisionPercent of total
Notes: Total public institutions reporting=97. Total private institutions reporting=17.
Ticket sales
       Total ticket sales8,070286,500207,85427
Postseason compensation
Bowl games61321,18046912
       Total postseason79631,53858983
NCAA and conference distributions2,72392,12672,6419
Student activity fees2,038770321,8546
Guarantees and options97831,45551,0433
Cash contributions from alumni and others5,301185,081165,27118
Direct government support4822204161
Institutional support2,23987,968253,02910
Program sales/advertising111015501170
Sign age/sponsorship1,25941,26241,2594
Sports camps294110102681
       Total other6,411226,405206,41022
Sophomore year
Recruiting methodMen's basketballWomen's basketballFootballOther sports
Recruiting materials
  • You may receive brochures for camps and questionnaires.
  • You may begin receiving recruiting materials June 15 after your sophomore year.
  • You may receive brochures for camps and questionnaires.
  • You may receive brochures for camps and questionnaires.
  • You may receive brochures for camps and questionnaires.
Telephone calls
  • You may make calls to coach at your expense.
  • College may accept collect calls from you at end of yoursophomore year.
  • College coach cannot call you.
  • You may make calls to coach at your expense only.
  • College coach cannot call you.
  • You may make calls to coach at your expense only.
  • College coach cannot call you.
  • You may make calls to coach at your expense only.
  • College coach cannot call you.
  • Women's ice hockeyif you are an international prospect, a college coach may call you once in July after sophomore year
Off-campus contact
  • None allowed.
  • None allowed.
  • None allowed.
  • None allowed.
Official visit
  • None allowed.
  • None allowed.
  • None allowed.
  • None allowed.
Unofficial visit
  • You may make an unlimited number of unofficial visits.
  • You may make an unlimited number of unofficial visits.
  • You may make an unlimited number of unofficial visits.
  • You may make an unlimited number of unofficial visits.
Junior year
Recruiting materials
  • Allowed.
  • You may begin receiving recruiting materials June 15 after your sophomore year.
  • You may begin receiving September 1 of junior year.
  • You may begin receiving September 1 of junior year.
  • You may begin receiving September 1 of junior year.
  • Men's ice hockeyyou may begin receiving recruiting materials June 15 after your sophomore year.
Telephone calls
  • You may make calls to the coach at your expense.
  • You may make calls to the coach at your expense.
  • You may make calls to the coach at your expense.
  • You may make calls to the coach at your expense.
College coaches may call you
  • Once per month beginning June 15, before your junior year, through July 31 after your junior year.
  • Once per month in April, May and June 120.
  • Once between June 21 and June 30 after your junior year.
  • Three times in July after your junior year.
  • Once from April 15 to May 31 of your junior year.
  • Once per week starting July 1 after your junior year.
  • Men's ice hockeyonce per month beginning June 15, before your junior year, through July 31 after your junior year.
Off-campus contactNone allowed.None allowed.None allowed.
  • Allowed starting July 1 after your junior year.
  • For gymnasticsallowed after July 15 after your junior year.
Official visit
  • None allowed.
  • None allowed.
  • None allowed.
  • None allowed.
Unofficial visit
  • You may make an unlimited number of unofficial visits.
  • You may make an unlimited number of unofficial visits.
  • You may make an unlimited number of unofficial visits.
  • You may make an unlimited number of unofficial visits.
Senior year
Recruiting methodMen's basketballWomen's basketballFootballOther sports
Recruiting materials
  • Allowed.
  • Allowed.
  • Allowed.
  • Allowed.
Telephone calls
  • You may make calls to the coach at your expense.
  • You may make calls to the coach at your expense.
  • You may make calls to the coach at your expense.
  • You may make calls to the coach at your expense.
College coaches may call now
  • Twice per week beginning August 1.
  • Once per week beginning August 1.
  • Once per week beginning September 1.
  • Once per week beginning July 1.
  • Men's ice hockeyonce per week beginning August 1.
Off-campus contact
  • Allowed beginning September 9.
  • Allowed beginning September 16.
  • Allowed beginning November 25.
  • Allowed
Official visit
  • Allowed beginning opening day of classes your senior year.
  • You are limited to one official visit per college up to a maximum of five official visits to divisions I and II colleges.
  • Allowed beginning opening day of classes your senior year.
  • You are limited to one official visit per college up to a maximum of five official visits to divisions I and II colleges.
  • Allowed beginning opening day of classes your senior year.
  • You are limited to one official visit per college up to a maximum of five official visits to divisions I and II colleges.
  • Allowed beginning opening day of classes your senior year.
  • You are limited to one official visit per college up to a maximum of five official visits to divisions I and II colleges.
Unofficial visit
  • You may make an unlimited number of unofficial visits.
  • You may make an unlimited number of unofficial visits.
  • You may make an unlimited number of unofficial visits.
  • You may make an unlimited number of unofficial visits.
Evaluation and contacts
  • Up to seven times during your senior year.
  • Up to five times during your senior year.
  • Up to six times during your senior year.
  • Up to seven times during your senior year.
How often can a coach see me or talk to me off the college's campus?
  • A college coach may contact you or your parents/legal guardians not more than three times during your senior year.
  • A college coach may contact you or your parents/legal guardians not more than three times during your senior year.
  • A college coach may contact you or your parents/legal guardians (including evaluating you off the college's campus), six times.
  • One evaluation during September, October and November.
  • A college coach may contact you or your parents/legal guardians not more than three times during your senior year.
Enrolled in physical education class
CharacteristicTotalAttended dailyExercised 20 minutes or more per class*Played on a sports teamWatched three or more hours/day of TV
*For students enrolled in physical education classes.
All students54.
Grade 972.846.586.364.742.4
Grade 1065.439.088.063.442.7
Grade 1151.133.587.561.034.1
Grade 1245.926.187.357.330.3
Grade 970.343.180.356.142.4
Grade 1053.031.581.052.337.4
Grade 1132.919.479.548.931.7
Grade 1232.018.879.741.332.4
White, non-Hispanic52.131.786.357.829.2
Black, non-Hispanic55.834.478.753.764.1
2.Track and fieldoutdoor15,4972.Basketball546,335
3.Baseball15,2903.Track and fieldoutdoor533,985
6.Cross country13,1106.Wrestling251,534
7.Soccer10,5807.Cross country208,303
10.Swimming & diving6,22410.Swimming & diving107,468
2.Track and fieldoutdoor15,4172.Track and fieldoutdoor439,200
3.Softballfast pitch14,7103.Volleyball390,034
4.Volleyball14,5784.Softballfast pitch369,094
5.Cross country12,9895.Soccer321,555
6.Soccer9,9706.Cross country175,954
8.Golf8,8168.Swimming & diving147,413
9.Swimming & diving6,5599.Competitive spirit squad98,570
10.Competitive spirit squad3,91410.Golf64,195
Eighth grade69.667.366.666.568.167.466.768.767.767.369.167.265.365.7
Parental education*
Less than high school54.347.749.951.050.553.452.353.055.047.553.355.551.348.8
Completed high school66.163.762.563.964.864.261.563.063.364.364.163.064.458.1
Some college73.367.669.769.573.869.470.570.269.669.869.166.865.067.0
Completed college73.675.572.772.371.375.371.674.
Graduate school76.676.776.374.474.977.774.876.675.475.878.776.976.274.8
College plans
None or under 4 years49.946.947.951.051.350.550.249.446.846.846.549.041.445.7
Complete four years72.770.469.068.770.370.068.970.970.269.571.668.767.867.9
Tenth grade60.262.962.061.862.661.561.761.662.261.562.961.160.261.1
Parental education*
Less than high school44.540.142.542.740.942.744.246.744.045.948.340.244.042.0
Completed high school54.456.858.253.254.353.756.353.654.051.756.554.750.954.2
Some college59.863.662.962.062.662.460.564.765.261.463.060.961.860.8
Completed college67.272.667.370.371.868.368.868.170.069.968.970.666.467.7
Graduate school70.974.675.174.074.973.572.772.971.975.975.572.074.473.0
College plans
None or under 4 years38.942.741.339.939.940.342.045.539.039.441.137.540.638.6
Complete four years64.666.966.066.566.265.164.864.466.065.066.464.963.164.0
*Parental education is calculated by the Institute of Social Research as the average of the mother's and father's education. Child Trends has relabeled these results to reflect the education level of the most educated parent. In those circumstances where the gap between mothers' and fathers' education is more than one level, this results in an underestimate of the most educated parent's education level.
Twelfth grade56.255.655.756.355.155.155.555.954.355.
Parental education*
Less than high school41.346.744.441.738.735.337.241.343.533.238.039.742.641.9
Completed high school50.349.152.851.248.450.150.252.549.553.550.
Some college60.354.955.857.153.254.355.557.454.656.856.153.351.555.0
Completed college61.763.860.861.862.262.160.659.157.358.662.162.157.860.8
Graduate school66.467.566.468.468.064.666.766.265.863.063.562.666.763.8
College plans
None or under 4 years42.641.
Complete four years61.560.760.460.058.859.060.359.957.858.458.857.756.258.8

High School

views updated Jun 11 2018

High School

High school as it developed over the middle decades of the nineteenth century was diverse in its instantiationsas variable, in fact, as the cities that gave it birth. An array of secondary educational alternatives included everything from a few courses in the "higher branches" offered to a handful of students in a solitary room of a city's "union" school to Boston's precocious English Classical School, established in 1821. Between these extremes lay the academies, commercial institutes, seminaries, and proprietary schools that dotted the landscape of midcentury American education. Throughout most of the nineteenth century, indeed, until the 1880s, the high school was more easily defined by what it was not than by what it was: neither a college nor the classical grammar school that prepared future collegians, the high school of the mid-nineteenth century both sprang from and was instituted in contradistinction to classical grammar schools, which prepared young people for college.

Development of the Nineteenth-Century High School

While high schools across the United States would continue to vary widely throughout the next seventy years in response to the highly specific needs of populations experiencing rapidly changing social conditions and political alignments, the very construction of a high school, whether in Kalamazoo or Philadelphia, demanded a shoring up of the school system that supported it. Age-grading and sequencing the curriculum became necessary to differentiate the offerings of the high school from its tributaries and to legitimize those offerings. This in turn was made easier by the adoption of standard textbooks and uniform high school entrance examinations. And since public schools largely justified their existence by offering education inexpensively, they hired the cheapest labor to teach their growing enrollments. Therefore, educated women, with few other avenues of employment open to them, soon replaced male faculty at the primary levels of public schooling. In some instances this ordering of the lower schools prepared the way for the building of a high school. In others, the "high" school, however modest its accommodations, preceded the reorganization of the lower schools or even the passage of compulsory schoolattendance legislation. Yet all attempts to bring order and predictability were predicated upon the larger movement to centralize school bureaucracy locally.

By the end of the nineteenth century in the northeastern and midwestern United States this process had been largely completed, and the high school stood poised to become an extension of the American common school. Entrance examinations, widely employed during the middle decades of the century, were used to screen out students of lower aptitude and achievement in an effort to erect a perfect meritocracy. In one important respect this approach had been an unqualified success: before the turn of the century, once a student had entered the elite confines of the public high school, his or her grades were the best predictor of graduation; working-class pupils, whose chances of gaining entrance to high school were significantly diminished by their social background, performed just as well in high school as students of higher socioeconomic status. Their achievement after graduation, moreover, was rewarded in ways comparable to their graduate-peers across the social spectrum.

Committee of Ten

As high schools multiplied across the nation, one era came to a close and another beckoned. In response to this unruly expansion, the National Education Association convened the country's leading educators to suggest ways to rectify the uneven shape of the secondary school curriculum. "The Committee of Ten," chaired by Harvard University President Charles W. Eliot, issued a report in 1893 recommending that the secondary school curriculum rededicate itself nationally to the goal of "training and disciplining the mind through academic studies," thus creating a better fit between the subjects offered by the high schools and the colleges receiving their students. Yet, in effect, as Jurgen Herbst has observed, the Committee of Ten had "written an epitaph instead of a blueprint for the future" (p. 108).

Left out of the report was any consideration of the demand for a curriculum that was becoming more, rather than less, variegated: one which included not just the call for "industrial arts" training in the Prussian mode but also for "commercial" coursestraining in the new technologies of business and commerce such as typing, stenography, sales, accounting, bookkeeping, and French and other modern languages which had been excluded historically from the classical curriculum. From its origins the high school, like its closest cousin, the academy, had offered an alternative to the classical training of the grammar school. It was to be practical in orientation and so was inclined to expand in this direction as its embrace of young people was enlarged. Indeed, by the time the Committee of Ten had issued its recommendations, most public high schools in the United States had abandoned the use of entrance examinations as a device to restrict enrollments.

Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education

Between 1900 and 1940 the ratio of seventeen year olds graduating from high school nationwide shot up from 7 percent to 49 percent. As the great boom in high school attendance got underway during the 1910s and 1920s, high schools across the nation assumed broad similarities however much they differed in their particulars. These similarities were enhanced by the next major report on the status and purpose of secondary education, which was issued by the Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education. Its Cardinal Principles (1918) stressed the importance of making secondary education available to the great majority of young people and dampened the emphasis of the Committee of Ten on strengthening connections between the high school curriculum and the mission of college education.

The Cardinal Principles laid the philosophical foundation for the adoption of the "comprehensive curriculum" and "tracking" during the 1920s and afterthat is, the creation of curricular streams that channeled students according to aptitude, interest, and achievement into distinct courses of study judged to fit their individual abilities and inclinations. In practice, of course, this led to the reproduction of the very social structures that students experienced in the world out-side the school, as principals, teachers, and career counselors often guided adolescents into tracks based upon their parents' socioeconomic, racial, or ethnic backgrounds. As John Modell and J. Trent Alexander pointed out in 1997, in the "old regime" (high school before 1900) the school "reproduced the structures of the outside world by restricting admission." Under the new regimehigh school as a mass institution"schools reproduced the structures of the outside world through a variety of mechanisms that took place within the institutions themselves" (p. 23). Tracking was the curricular version of this device, indeed the major mechanism of sorting youths in the schools, but others arose in the form of the extracurriculum that emerged within the "new" high school of the 1920s and 1930s. The extracurriculum, which included every kind of student activity from sports to language clubs, was a way of engaging students in the values of high school outside the classroom. It was a means of extending enrollments by appealing to the interests of the average student, who a generation earlier would have "dropped out."

Postwar Developments

After World War II the great majority of adolescents attended and graduated from high schools. By 1967 graduation rates peaked at 76 percent and leveled off at around 75 percent for the remainder of the century. As high school graduation became normative, the financial consequences of not achieving a high school diploma became costly over the lifetime of those who failed to complete twelfth grade. The high school diploma had become a credential necessary both for employment after high school and for admission to college. On one hand, the expansion of higher education in the wake of the war fueled demand for this credential, and on the other, the collapse of the youth job market during the Great Depression and decline of the industrial sector of the U.S. economy and enlargement of the service sector after World War II discouraged leaving school early. Virtually as soon as high school became a mass institution, however, the problem of "warehousing" confronted educators. As greater numbers of adolescents entered high school for lack of economic opportunity, they were decreasingly likely, it seems, to find satisfaction in the school's offerings.

By the 1960s public high schools were criticized on a number of grounds: the bottom quintile of students who typically gravitated toward vocational offerings was incorporated into the comprehensive high school, but the skills imparted by the vocational curriculum had dubious application in the industrial workforce. The middle 60 percent, for whom a watered-down academic curriculum had been designed for "life adjustment," found the high school experience empty and irrelevant. And the top 20 percent of high school achievers, it was charged, were not being adequately prepared for the rigors of college. The most common criticism was that the social dimension of the high school experience was being overemphasized at the expense of academic achievement.

Roiling beneath the surface of these complaints was a more profound problem. If the Cardinal Principles early in the century had succeeded in shaping the high school into a meeting place for adolescents of diverse ethnic, socioeconomic, and racial backgrounds, the student culture was rent by very real out-of-school differences within the pupil population. In the wake of Brown v. Board of Education, the civil rights movement, and racial strife of the 1960s, middle-and working-class whites fled from inner-city high schools to new suburban schools. The effect of "white flight" was compounded by a plummeting birthrate among whites, so that by the 1980s it was commonplace for the composition of inner-city school populations to be composed of African-American and Latino students in excess of 90 percent. In addition to the detrimental social affects of such intensely segregated high schools, racial and ethnic segregation was accompanied by profound socioeconomic disadvantage. The separation of white suburban high school students from African-American and Latino central city students had erected a two-tiered, deeply unequal system of public schooling at every level.

Attempts to correct such imbalances have ranged from the use of vouchers in a handful of cities to the most pervasive approach, the creation of themed magnet high schools in inner-city districts. By attracting white students from the suburbs to take advantage of the specialized curricula of the magnets, the hope is to reintegrate the public high school. Thus far progress has been modest at best.

Despite its many problems, the high school became the institutional rite of passage for twentieth-century American youth. From a social standpoint it has provided the common basis for a youth experience that has included male and female, black and white, immigrant and native. It has served as an arena for the spread of youth styles and as an entry point for an expanding popular and youth culture. The high school, having largely abandoned its academic focus in the early twentieth century, found that by the twenty-first century, the search for academic retooling had become ever more difficult to achieve.

See also: Education, United States; Junior High School; Vocational Education, Industrial Education, and Trade Schools.


Becker, Gary S. 1975. Human Capital: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis, with Special Reference to Education. New York: National Bureau of Economic Research and Columbia University Press.

Coleman, James Samuel, Thomas Hoffer, and Sally Kilgore. 1982. High School Achievement: Public, Catholic, and Private Schools Compared. New York: Basic Books.

Fass, Paula S. 1989. "Americanizing the High School." In Outside In: Minorities and the Transformation of American Education, by Paula S. Fass. New York: Oxford University Press.

Grant, Gerald. The World We Created at Hamilton High. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988.

Herbst, Jurgen. 1996. The Once and Future School: Three Hundred and Fifty Years of American Secondary Education. New York: Rout-ledge.

Krug, Edward A. 19641972. The Shaping of the American High School. 2 vols. New York: Harper and Row.

Labaree, David F. 1988. The Making of an American High School: The Credentials Market and the Central High School of Philadelphia, 18381939. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Labaree, David F. 1997. How to Succeed in School without Really Learning: The Credentials Race in American Education. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Modell, John, and J. Trent Alexander. 1997. "High School in Transition: Community, School, and Peer Group in Abilene, Kansas, 1939." History of Education Quarterly 37 (spring): 124.

Ogbu, John U. 2003. Black American Students in an Affluent Suburb: A Study of Academic Disengagement. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Orfield, Gary, and Susan E. Eaton. 1996. Dismantling Desegregation: The Quiet Reversal of Brown v. Board of Education. New York: New Press.

Powell, Arthur G., Eleanor Farrar, and David K. Cohen. 1985. The Shopping Mall High School: Winners and Losers in the Educational Marketplace. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Reese, William J. 1995. The Origins of the American High School. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Ueda, Reed. 1987. Avenues to Adulthood: The Origins of the High School and Social Mobility in an American Suburb. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Stephen Lassonde

College Admissions

views updated May 08 2018


Applying for admission to colleges and universities has evolved from a relatively straightforward process to a complex rite of passage that causes anxiety for many high school students. Increased media attention about college admissions during the late 1980s and 1990s facilitated the growth of a booming college admissions industry. Commercial test-preparation courses, independent counselors, annual college rankings by news magazines, and a wide range of guidebooks are now a routine part of the college admissions landscape.

Despite this plethora of advice on how to "beat" the admissions process, institutions of higher education vary greatly in their selectivity. Many community colleges, for example, have an open-access policy and admit any applicant with a high school diploma or its equivalent. On the other hand, the most competitive universities admit as few as 10 to 20 percent of their applicants.

Colleges establish enrollment goals based on considerations such as tuition revenue projections, financial aid budgets, housing availability, and the number of currently enrolled students. Since many applicants apply to more than one institution, not every offer of admission that a college extends will result in a student enrolling there. Colleges therefore admit more students than they hope to enroll. The percentage of students who accept an institution's offer of admission is known as a college's yield rate. Because this number is difficult to predict from year to year, some institutions maintain a wait list for applicants. If a college has not reached its target enrollment after regularly admitted applicants accept or decline their offers of admission, it may admit students on its wait list.

The Admissions Process

The admissions process is based on the submission of written applications and supporting credentials. In the late 1990s many colleges began offering the option of online applications, available through institutions' websites or through commercial third parties. While most students use application forms specific to a particular institution, a form called the Common Application reduces the volume of paperwork for students applying to participating institutions. Most institutions require an application fee, although students with severe financial hardships sometimes obtain fee waivers with the support of their guidance counselors.

Applications usually require submission of an official high school transcript, an official college transcript if the student has completed previous college coursework, a guidance counselor recommendation, teacher recommendations, and official results from either the SAT I or the ACT Assessment. Some selective colleges require the SAT II subject tests, which they sometimes use for placement purposes. In addition, many applications require one or more essays, and some colleges require interviews with admissions staff, alumni, or current students. Additional information may be required for transfer or international students.

Application Options

Many institutions have a strict admissions timetable to which applicants must adhere. Application deadlines can range from early fall of the senior year in high school to the summer before desired enrollment. The following are among colleges' most common application options, and an institution may offer one or more of these:

  • Regular decision . Deadlines for submitting applications and supporting credentials for fall semester admission typically fall between December and March. Most institutions that follow this traditional schedule mail admissions decisions in late March or early April and ask students to notify them of their enrollment decisions by May 1.
  • Rolling admissions . Some colleges offer a rolling admissions process, in which applications are reviewed and evaluated as they are received. These institutions notify students of their admissions status as decisions are made.
  • Early action . Some colleges have a fall application deadline for students who wish to receive notification of their admissions status in December or January. Colleges may admit or deny these applicants, or they may opt to reconsider them under the regular decision process. Receiving an early offer of admission can be a relief for students, and students who are denied admission usually still have time to apply to other colleges. Some institutions ask that applicants apply for early action at only one college, while others do not have this restriction.
  • Early decision . This process differs from early action in that students agree to attend the institution if offered admission. In addition, they must withdraw their applications from all other institutions if admitted. As students may apply to only one institution using this option, it is appropriate only for students who are certain about their first-choice college. In some cases, applying for early decision can have ramifications for financial aid.

Counselors generally recommend the early action and early decision options only for students with strong academic records through the junior year. Weaker applicants may improve their applications by retaking a standardized test or improving their grades during the fall of their senior year.

Some variations exist in the above timetable. In special cases, for example, highly qualified students may be permitted to enroll after their junior year in high school. Some colleges will agree to defer an offer of admission for students who wish to work or travel for a year between high school and college. Accepting a position on a college's wait list may prolong the college admissions process well into the summer before desired enrollment. Some institutions may admit a student with provisions (e.g., asking that he or she take a summer remedial skills course prior to being fully admitted to the college).

Offers of admission to high school seniors usually include the stipulation that the student must maintain satisfactory academic performance. Colleges may revoke offers of admission to students whose grades decline significantly during their second semester.

Application review procedures vary widely by institution. Some colleges have admissions officers independently rate applications, while others utilize committees comprising admissions personnel, faculty, or current students. Institutions are legally bound to adhere to their publicized admissions standards, honor their admissions decisions, and refrain from unjustifiably discriminating on the basis of race, sex, age, disability, or citizenship. At the end of the twentieth century, however, the legality of affirmative action, one of the most controversial practices in college admissions, began to be challenged in the courts.

Weight of Credentials

No particular set of credentials guarantees admission to the most selective institutions, as these colleges receive many more qualified applicants than they are able to admit. The process is subjective, and often several individuals will review each application.

Colleges usually identify the high school transcript as the most important credential. They consider rigor of coursework, grade point average (GPA), and sometimes class rank. Institutions typically publish their minimum expectations for applicants' high school curriculum. In evaluating the transcript, most colleges highly regard honors, Advanced Placement (AP), and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses. Some colleges look primarily at the number of years a student has studied each subject (e.g., three years of foreign language); others look to see that a certain course level has been attained (e.g., completion of Algebra II). Many colleges view applicants' coursework in the context of what their high schools offer. Most high schools send colleges a profile that includes information about grading practices, curriculum, extracurricular opportunities, and the socioeconomic environment of the school. This gives admissions officers a way to judge the work of students at high schools with which they are unfamiliar. Institutions vary as to whether they will consider GPAs and class ranks that are weighted for honors, AP, or IB courses; some re-calculate GPAs to be consistent across applications. Likewise, institutions differ as to whether they include nonacademic courses, such as physical education or fine arts, as part of the applicant's GPA.

Standardized tests, especially the SAT and ACT Assessment, continue to play an important role in the admissions process at most colleges, despite concerns about the differential performance of disadvantaged students on these tests. Some institutions, especially public universities, use admissions formulas that combine standardized test scores and grade point average. Most institutions, however, consider standardized tests as only one aspect of a student's application. Standardized tests provide a uniform yardstick against which all applicants are measuredunlike grades, which may reflect differences in high schools' academic rigor.

Institutions look to counselor and teacher recommendations to better understand an applicant. While an outstanding counselor recommendation can hold great weight with an admissions committee, admissions officers recognize that guidance counselors may not know each individual applicant well. Teacher recommendations help with this situation, as teachers tend to have more face-to-face contact with individual students. Recommendations can help colleges to understand the challenges that applicants have faced and the extent to which students have contributed to their high school communities.

Good essays also help admissions officers better understand applicants or see a side of the applicant not evident in the rest of the application. Admissions officers judge essays with an eye toward content and quality of writing. Colleges expect essays to be the applicant's own work.

Applications usually include space for students to list their extracurricular activities. Some institutions allow applicants to submit videos, slides, or other materials that document special talents in areas such as sports or the arts, and many colleges give special consideration to applicants with extraordinary talents.

See also: Advanced Placement Courses/Exams; College Admissions Tests; College Financial Aid; College Recruitment Practices; College Search and Selection.


Guernsey, Lisa. 1998. "Admissions in Cyberspace: Web Sites Bring Complications for Colleges." Chronicle of Higher Education October 9:A27.

HernÁndez, Michele A. 1997. A Is for Admission: The Insider's Guide to Getting into the Ivy League and Other Top Colleges. New York: Warner Books.

Hoover, Eric. 2002. "New Attacks of Early Decision." Chronical of Higher Education January 11:A45.

Hossler, Don. 1984. Enrollment Management: An Integrated Approach. New York: College Entrance Examination Board.

Kaplan, William A., and Lee, Barbara A. 1997. "Admissions." In A Legal Guide for Student Affairs Professionals, ed. William A. Kaplan and Barbara A. Lee. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

McDonough, Patricia M. 1997. Choosing Colleges: How Social Class and Schools Structure Opportunity. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Skrentny, John D. 2001. "Affirmative Action and New Demographic Realities." Chronicle of Higher Education February 16:B7.

internet resources

ACT Assessment. 2002. <>

College Board. 2002. <>

Common Application. 2002. <>

National Association for College Admission Counseling. 2002. <>

Kathryn A. Balink

Advanced Placement Courses/Exams

views updated Jun 11 2018


Development of the Advanced Placement program came about because of a perceived need to provide motivated high school students with an opportunity to earn college credit. In 1954 the Educational Testing Service (ETS) was given a contract to develop exams in a group of experimental high schools and to compare the results of the high school students' scores on the exams to those of freshmen in twelve colleges. The resulting favorable comparison gave impetus to an expansion of efforts to further develop additional courses and examinations across the disciplines; this evolved into a program of the College Entrance Examination Board (College Board), with technical aspects of test administration and scoring handled by ETS. Advanced Placement courses are designed to mirror the introductory level college courses offered in the major discipline areas.

The most frequently cited reason for enrollment in AP courses has been the greater rigor and challenge of AP courses compared to traditional high school offerings. Successful candidates also gain the advantage of being allowed to take more advanced courses at the beginning of their college careers and to select more elective courses.

AP courses and examinations, which were initially developed for the highest-achieving 5 percent of high school seniors, were widely available to juniors and seniors (10 to 20 percent of such students in many schools) by the beginning of the twenty-first century, and AP courses in calculus and physics were being taken via computer by students as young as those in eighth grade. In 2000, 768,586 students from 13,253 schools (out of approximately 22,000 high schools nationwide) took 1,272,317 exams. The students had the option of submitting their scores to 3,070 colleges.

Students are not required by the College Board to take an exam if enrolled in an Advanced Placement course. About one-third of students enrolled in the courses take the exam. But individual schools may, and sometimes do, require enrolled students to take the exam. Students may also elect to take an AP exam without enrolling in the course in high school. There is no predetermined number or pattern of courses or exams students must take during their high school careers. Not all high schools offer Advanced Placement courses and some offer only one or two courses. Table 1 lists the Advanced Placement courses and examinations available in 2002.

In addition to creating the examinations used to assess students' mastery of college-level subject matter, the College Board provides schools with course


syllabi, including topical outlines and recommended texts. Examinations are developed in consultation with college faculty and high school teachers who are experienced in Advanced Placement teaching.

Grading of AP examinations is done independently by trained examiners. Exam results are assigned a rating with the College Board between 1 and5. A 3 means the student is qualified to earn college credit and/or advanced placement in "virtually all four year colleges and universities, including the most selective." A 5 is deemed "extremely well qualified." The American Council on Education has also recommended, as a general rule, that colleges and universities award credit for grades of 3 or better on AP examinations. The College Board, however, does not assign college credits. Credits are assigned according to the policy of the college or university to which the student applies for credit. At a particular college, the required score for credit and/or advanced standing is determined by the faculty of that college and may vary from examination to examination. William Lichten reported in 2000 that even though two-thirds of test takers earn a score of 3 or higher, only 49 percent receive college credit based on Advanced Placement exam scores. Lichten further noted that while a majority of colleges still award credit for scores of 3 or higher, many highly selective colleges and universities require at least a 4, and there is an increased tendency for institutions of higher education to require higher scores in some areas (e.g., English literature, foreign language) than in others. Some colleges do not accept credit for advanced placement courses or success on the exam at all, rejecting the assertion that the AP and college courses are equivalent. Information on the level of success required for earning college credit at a specific college or university based on the results of a particular AP exam is provided by the College Board at its website.

There is no fee for enrolling in Advanced Placement courses, but students must pay a fee to take the examination. Twenty-six states use state funds to support AP programs either through subsidizing exam fees, subsidizing the costs of teacher training, providing funds for materials and supplies for AP courses, offering incentives for providing AP courses or hosting training sessions, encouraging universities to accept AP credit, and encouraging the offering of professional development opportunities. Eighteen of these states provide direct assistance to students by paying for exam fees. The federal government has also provided funds to pay either partial or full examination fees for minority and low-income students, and in some cases individual school systems have taken the initiative to pay for the examination.

According to the College Board, college admissions personnel view AP courses as one indicator of future success at the college level. Participation in AP courses, therefore, is considered an advantage to a student who wishes to attend a highly selective college. The importance of AP programs in the college admissions process has even been the basis underlying a lawsuit filed in 1999 in California claiming bias because fewer Advanced Placement programs are offered in schools with higher percentages of minority and low-income students.

See also: Curriculum, School, subentry on Over-view; Secondary Education, subentry on Current Trends; Standards for Student Learning.


College Entrance Examination Board and Educational Testing Service. 1999. Facts about the Advanced Placement Program, 2000. New York: College Entrance Examination Board and Educational Testing Service.

Ravalglia, Raymond; DEBarros, J. Acacio; and Suppes, Patrick. 1995. "Computer-Based Instruction Brings Advanced-Placement Physics to Gifted Students." Computers in Physics 9:380386.

Rothchild, Eric. 1995. "Aspiration, Performance, Reward: The Advanced Placement Program at Forty." College Board Review 176177:2432.

Sindelar, Nancy W. 1988. "English Curriculum and Higher Education." Journal of College Admissions (summer):25.

internet resources

College Board. 2001. "AP Central." < >.

Lichten, William. 2000. "Whither Advanced Placement?" Education Policy Analysis Archives 8 (29). <>.

Viadero, Deborah. 2001. "AP Program Assumes Larger Role." Education Week <>.

Carolyn M. Callahan

College Admissions Tests

views updated Jun 08 2018


The ACT Assessment and SAT are the most popular college entrance tests administered in the United States.


The ACT Assessment, formerly called the American College Test, is a standardized examination required by many colleges and universities in the United States for admission to their undergraduate degree programs. The test was developed in 1959 to measure the academic abilities of prospective college students and provided an alternative to the SAT. The ACT is a two-hour and fifty-five-minute multiple-choice exam that measures English, mathematics, reading, and science reasoning skills. Students are also required to complete two questionnaires that cover the courses they have taken, their grades and activities, and a standardized interest inventory. The test battery includes four parts: (1) a 45-minute, 75-item English test; (2) a 60-minute, 60-item mathematics test; (3) a 35-minute, 40-item reading test; and (4) a 35-minute, 40-item science reasoning test. Each of the tests is scored on a scale from one to thirty-six; the four scores are combined into a composite score of one to thirty-six. Most students who take the test score within the range of seventeen to twenty-three.

Most students take the ACT during the spring of their junior year or at the beginning of their senior year. Students are allowed to take the test more than once, and most colleges and universities count the highest score reported. Students may designate the colleges and universities to which their scores should be reported.


The SAT, formerly called the Scholastic Aptitude Test and later the Scholastic Assessment Test, is an examination that is required by some of the higher education institutions within the United States for admission to their undergraduate degree programs. The SAT dates to the early 1900s when Ivy League schools formed the College Entrance Examination Board (College Board). The purpose of the board was to simplify the application process for students who were required to take a different entrance exam for each college they applied to. The SAT was designed as a standardized entrance exam for the College Board that required students to write out answers and compose essays.

In the early 1990s the test was redesigned to measure verbal and mathematical reasoning through multiple-choice questions. The revised SAT includes two separate divisions of the exam: the SAT I, which is a general test of verbal and math ability, and the SAT II, which tests knowledge in specialized subjects chosen by the student. The verbal and math portion of the test devotes seventy-five minutes to the verbal section and sixty minutes to the mathematics section. The verbal portion comprises three kinds of questions, as noted by Alexandra Beatty and colleagues in 1998: (1) analogy questions, which assess "knowledge of the meaning of words," ability to see a relationship in a pair of words, and the ability to recognize a similar or parallel relationship; (2) sentence completion questions, which assess "knowledge of the meaning of words" and "ability to understand how the different parts of a sentence fit logically together"; and (3) critical reading questions, which assess "ability to read and think carefully about several reading passages" (p. 18).

The mathematics section of the test assesses how well the students understand mathematics, how well they can apply what is known to new situations, and how well they are able to use the knowledge they have acquired to solve difficult mathematical problems. Each of the sections generates a score on a scale of 200 to 800, with the combined scores ranging from 400 to 1,600. Nationwide, average scores on both the verbal and math sections of the test are approximately 500.

Test Scores and Their Relationship to Admissions Selectivity

There is some misunderstanding pertaining to the validity and importance of college entrance test scores. While test scores weigh heavily in admissions decisions, they are not the only variable that is considered in admitting a student to even the most selective institution of higher learning. Most colleges and universities use the test scores as a means of assessing a candidate for admission. Other criteria included in this assessment are the high school grade point average (GPA), rank in class, record of extracurricular and service activities, letters of recommendation, applicant's essay, evidence of persistence, and interviews, which assist the college or university in determining the applicant's maturity, determination, personality, and character. High school GPAs are considered a "soft" measure because grading standards range as widely as they do in college. Nevertheless, GPAs are considered more important than test scores because they are inclusive of several years of performance, not just a few hours of testing.

The combination of high school GPAs and ACT or SAT test scores is very useful in determining admissions because it provides different kinds of information about the academic performance of students. Test scores and GPAs provide reliable and efficient information that is very useful to many admissions counselors. Test scores were not designed, however, to be a comprehensive approach to all factors that influence success in college. Admissions personnel rely as much on high school GPAs or class rank as they do on test scores, and the predictor of college success is higher for both numbers together than for either one alone.

The ACT and the SAT can be very helpful in assisting colleges in admissions selectivity when there are more applicants than the college can accept. The colleges believe that the tests are one excellent means of helping them to make a better selection of the candidates who apply. For instance, colleges that specialize in the liberal arts and humanities would seek students with higher scores in verbal aptitude and lower scores in mathematics aptitude, whereas engineering colleges would seek students with high scores in mathematics aptitude and lower scores in verbal aptitude.

Over the years, college entrance tests have improved considerably. Colleges and universities have determined that students who do well on the tests have the ability to succeed in college. These tests, however, are indicators only of a student's ability to do college work; they cannot measure perseverance and interest in learning.

See also: College Admissions; College Entrance Examination Board, The; College Financial Aid; College Search and Selection.


National Research Council. Steering Committee for the Workshop on Higher Education Admissions. 1998. Myths and Tradeoffs: The Role of Tests in Undergraduate Admissions, ed. Alexandra Beatty, M.R.C. Greenwood, and Robert L. Linn. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Owen, David. 1999. None of the Above: The Truth behind the SATs, revised edition. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Wechsler, Louis K.; Blum, Martin; and Friedman, Sidney. 1967. College Entrance Examinations. New York: Barnes and Noble.

Susan West

high school

views updated May 29 2018

high school • n. a school that typically comprises grades 9 through 12, attended after primary school or middle school.DERIVATIVES: high school·er n.