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The Economics of Persistence: Graduation Rates of Athletes as Labor Market Choice



The issue of compatibility of athletics and academics has led to much concern over the observed disparity in graduation rates of scholarship athletes across institutions. It is ironic that no one mentions that graduation rates for nonathletes also vary dramatically across campuses. Our approach is to consider the decision to persist in school as part of the economic calculation made by students comparing alternative labor market returns. If there is very little marginal value to holding a degree from a particular school, relatively few students should persist to graduation. For some scholarship athletes, there is another labor market alternative not available to the traditional student: professional sports. Graduation rates for these athletes should therefore reflect their opportunities in sports as well as the more traditional opportunities available to other students at the same school. We analyze data for each Division I NCAA school on academic characteristics, athletic characteristics and graduation rates. Three groups of athletes are studied: male football players, male basketball players and female basketball players. We find strong empirical evidence that traditional labor market opportunities unrelated to sport are significant explanatory variables of persistence of athletes. In addition, we find support for the hypothesis that professional opportunities have a significant impact on the graduation rate of athletes. This impact is stronger in sports with higher expected financial returns from this form of non- degree employment.

Suggested Citation

  • Lawrence DeBrock & Wallace Hendricks & Roger Koenker, 1994. "The Economics of Persistence: Graduation Rates of Athletes as Labor Market Choice," Working Papers _001, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, revised 1996.
  • Handle: RePEc:wop:ilucwp:_001

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    Cited by:

    1. Alex Krumer & Tal Shavit & Mosi Rosenboim, 2011. "Why do professional athletes have different time preferences than non-athletes?," Judgment and Decision Making, Society for Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 6(6), pages 542-551, August.
    2. Murphy, Kevin J., 2000. "What effect does uncertainty have on the length of labor contracts?," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 7(2), pages 181-201, March.
    3. Kahn, Lawrence M., 2006. "The Economics of College Sports: Cartel Behavior vs. Amateurism," IZA Discussion Papers 2186, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    4. Zavale, Nelson Casimiro & Santos, Luísa A. & Manuel, Lourenço & da Conceição L. Dias, Maria & Khan, Maida A. & Tostão, Emílio & Mondjana, Ana M., 2017. "Decision-making in African universities demands rigorous data: Evidence from graduation rates at Eduardo Mondlane University in Mozambique," International Journal of Educational Development, Elsevier, vol. 52(C), pages 122-134.
    5. Lawrence M. Kahn, 2007. "Markets: Cartel Behavior and Amateurism in College Sports," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 21(1), pages 209-226, Winter.
    6. B. Erin Fairweather, 2013. "The impact of increased academic standards of Proposition 16 on the graduation rates of women and men in Division IA intercollegiate athletics," Chapters,in: Handbook on the Economics of Women in Sports, chapter 11, pages 233-250 Edward Elgar Publishing.

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