Search results for special education

An elementary school student shows her younger friend how to sign using American Sign Language. Photo by daveynin, Flickr CC.

Since the passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) in 1975 and the more comprehensive Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1990, the number of children receiving special education services has increased dramatically. Today, seven million children in the United States receive special education to meet their individual needs, with more than ever attending their neighborhood schools as opposed to separate schools or institutions.

Because special education has become so institutionalized in schools over the past three decades, we often take for granted that the categories we use to classify people with special needs are socially constructed. For instance, Minnesota has thirteen categorical disability areas, ranging from autism spectrum disorders to blind-visual impairment to traumatic brain injury. But these categories differ from state to state, as do states’ definitions for each category and their protocols for determining when a child meets the diagnostic criteria in a given area. A more sociological take suggests that the “special ed” label does more than just entitle children to receipt of services. For better or worse, it also helps to establish their position within the structure of the mass education system, and to define their relationships with other students, administrators, and professionals.
Research suggests that children of color are overdiagnosed and underserved. They are more likely to be referred for special education testing and to receive special education services than others. This disproportionality occurs more often in categories for which diagnosis relies on the “art” of professional judgment, like emotionally disturbed (ED) or learning disabled (LD). It occurs less often in categories that require little diagnostic inference like deafness or blindness. The attribution of labels can be particularly concerning for children of color, as these labels can be associated with lower teacher and peer expectations and reduced curricular coverage. Even when appropriately placed in special education classes, children of color often receive poorer services than disabled white children. Some research suggests that this happens because the culture and organization of schools encourages teachers to view students of color as academically and behaviorally deficient.
Given the disproportionate representation of students of color in special education, sociologists have investigated whether a child’s race or ethnicity elevates their likelihood of special education placement. By controlling for individual-, school-, and district-level factors, researchers have found that race and social class are not significant predictors of placement. However, school characteristics — like the overall level of student ability — play a role in determining who gets diagnosed. And, because children of color tend to be concentrated in majority-minority schools, they are less likely to be diagnosed than their white peers.

You may also be interested in a previous article: “Autism Across Cultures.”

For more information on children and youth with disabilities, check out the National Center for Education Statistics.

Photo of Elizabeth Warren speaking at a podium. There is a large sign next to her about how students afford college.
Photo by Senate Democrats, Flickr CC

Elizabeth Warren released an ambitious plan for free college and student loan relief on April 22.  Among a Democratic primary field that is increasingly embracing free college as the standard, Warren’s plan stood out for including $50,000 of debt relief for all individuals with current student debt, expanding what we mean by the cost of attendance, creating a fund for HBCUs, and (eventually) banning for-profit colleges from receiving federal funds. The plan also stood out in another way: centering sociological, justice-oriented research. Inequality and education are topics with a lot of good work from sociologists, but it is worth highlighting three sociologists who influenced Warren’s proposal: Louise Seamster, Tressie McMillan Cottom, and Sara Goldrick-Rab.

Warren notes that student loan debt is a racial equality issue. She specifically cites analysis done by a team at Brandeis University, including sociologist Louise Seamster, that finds that households with lower levels of education and families of color benefit more from Warren’s plan. Dr. Seamster’s recent article in Contexts, “Black Debt, White Debt,” demonstrates how debt often functions differently for black and white families. White Americans can take advantage of forms of debt like home mortgages, student loans, and business loans that later result in increased wealth and can be used to establish creditworthiness for future financial interactions. In contrast, municipals fines and fees or predatory student loans are more likely to be carried by black Americans. These forms of debt have high interest rates, poor terms, and hurt future wealth and creditworthiness more than they help.

Tressie McMillan Cottom’s Lower Ed also highlighted disparate impacts of student loan debt on black Americans, as well as the centrality of inequality for the American economy and the effects of for-profit colleges. Her work demonstrates how for-profit colleges target low-income students and students of color Dr. Cottom has also testified in front of Congress on for-profit colleges and the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

Warren’s free-college-for-all position leans heavily on researchers such as Sara Goldrick-Rab, one of the most active scholars and advocates for low-income college students. Dr. Goldrick-Rab advocates for meeting the basic needs of students as they pursue their education, especially in recognizing the costs beyond tuition that students face. Paying the Price demonstrates how it is money, not will or desire, that gets in the way of students on financial aid trying to finish a degree.

Louise Seamster, Tressie McMillan Cottom, and Sara Goldrick-Rab are exemplars of how sociological research can shape public policy and of how research and activism can push for a more equitable world.

Image description: Two college football players make contact on the field. Sports like football and basketball bring in huge amounts of money to colleges, but the student-athletes do not receive pay, raising questions about amateurism and exploitation that are now in front of the Supreme Court. Image via pixabay, pixabay license.

The NCAA was back in the Supreme Court last month, in the middle of its fabled March Madness basketball tournament. In NCAA v. Alston the association argued that the NCAA, not the courts, should decide the definition of amateurism. Or in other words, the NCAA should be in charge of deciding what types of compensation college athletes are able to receive–or not receive, as the case may be. 

The NCAA’s arguments built on their last Supreme Court case, in 1984, when the court ruled that the association’s actions in monopolizing TV contracts for college football violated antitrust regulations. But in his decision ruling against the NCAA Justice Stevens also included the line, “The NCAA plays a critical role in the maintenance of a revered tradition of amateurism in college sports.” The NCAA has leaned on this language over the past 35 years to maintain control over what benefits college athletes may receive, with the stated purpose of maintaining a separation between college and professional sports. 

The NCAA contends that the “product” of college sports will be devalued if college athletes are allowed to be paid, as fewer consumers will be interested in watching college sports if players are perceived as professional. Given that this argument amounts to an argument about consumer demand, what does the social science research say on whether the public believes that college athletes should be paid? 

A recent Ohio State survey (National Sports and Society Survey-NSASS) finds that a majority of Americans do support paying college athletes. This is a change from past research and potentially an important finding for the current legal challenges. 
What has not changed are the racial dynamics of who is more likely to support paying college athletes, with Black Americans more likely to support paying college athletes than white Americans. 
The main reason that public opinion has shifted is a growing sense that college athletes are being exploited, especially in football and men’s basketball. Exploitation is primarily a moral issue, with college athletes (and increasingly others) questioning whether the exchange relationship between themselves and the university is fair. Black athletes have long reported feelings of exploitation, and a recent NBER working paper illustrated how revenue brought in by Black men is being used to fund educational opportunities for other, white athletes.
Even aside from questions of exploitation, the concept of amateurism itself is suspect. Scholars have long argued that amateurism is a fundamentally classist concept based on nineteenth-century ideas of aristocracy, morality, and a “purity” of sport based on exclusion of the working-class. This flawed ideal has never described big-time American college sport, which has been commercialized and professionalized since its founding. It has certainly not described college athletics since the NCAA instituted one-year, renewable athletic scholarships in 1973, which in practice look and act like employment contracts

Taylor Branch’s now classic piece in The Atlantic, “The Shame of College Sports,”as well as the publicity around Ed O’Bannon’s court case to allow college athletes to profit off of their likeness, illustrate how issues of amateurism and exploitation in college sports have firmly entered popular discourse. The decision in Alston won’t answer many questions about the future of college sports, but it does represent an effort by the NCAA to assert control over a rapidly-changing situation. Court watchers feel that the Court is unlikely to rule for the NCAA after seeing oral arguments, which will make name/image/likeness and potentially pay-for-play legislation all the more important over the next few years.

A woman helps an elderly man get up from his chair
Photo by Brian Walker, Flickr CC

Originally published May 4, 2020

When we talk about work, we often miss a type of work that is crucial to keeping the economy going and arguably more challenging and difficult than ever under conditions of quarantine and social distancing: care work. Care work includes both paid and unpaid services caring for children, the elderly, and those who are sick and disabled, including bathing, cooking, getting groceries, and cleaning.

Sociologists have found that caregiving that happens within families is not always viewed as work, yet it is a critical part of keeping the paid work sector running. Children need to eat and be bathed and clothed. Families need groceries. Houses need to be cleaned. As many schools in the United States are closed and employees are working from home, parents are having to navigate extended caring duties. Globally, women do most of this caring labor, even when they also work outside of the home. 
Photo of a woman cooking
Photo by spablab, Flickr CC
Globally, women do most of this caring labor, even when they also work outside of the home. Historically, wealthy white women were able to escape these caring duties by employing women of color to care for their children and households, from enslaved African Americans to domestic servants. Today people of color, immigrants, and those with little education are overrepresented in care work with the worst job conditions. 
In the past decade, the care work sector has grown substantially in the United States. However, care workers are still paid low wages and receive little to no benefits. In fact, care work wages are stagnant or declining, despite an overall rise in education levels for workers. Thus, many care workers — women especially — find themselves living in poverty.  

Caring is important for a society to function, yet care work — paid or unpaid — is still undervalued. In this time of COVID-19 where people are renegotiating how to live and work, attention to caring and appreciation for care work is more necessary than ever.

Election Day is right around the corner. In this #TSPClassic Collection, we review several oldies-but-goodies about voting and elections. These include pieces on historical and contemporary patterns in voter turnout,  and the evolution of voter laws in the USA.. We also take stock of how political participation and democracy itself goes beyond just voting on Election Day.

Who Votes and Why?

A woman holds up a ballot. Image via flickr, CCO.

Who people vote for, and why they vote for them, is an important element of studying elections and political participation in social science, That doesn’t mean you can convince everybody on the other side of the political aisle to vote for your preferred candidate. This Sociological Images post considers the growing field of cognitive sociology to explain why voter choice and voter preferences are complex and hard to change.

A common question in American politics is whether people will vote: what motivates some people to vote regularly in national and local elections versus others who don’t really vote at all? This Soc Images post describes the answers people give when asked why they didn’t vote? This can range from personal attitudes such as opinions about the candidates on the ticket and or a general disinterest in politics. A lack of voter turnout can also be explained by barriers in the process including registering to vote, finding time to vote, and even dealing with bad weather on Election Day. Importantly, voter patterns differ by demographics. As described by this Soc Images post and this TSP Special, there are clear differences in voter registration and turnout among people of varying races, education, gender, and other differing backgrounds. This research question has been studied at length for decades, and considering such findings over time reveals important trends. This post from Sociological images discusses how voter turnout has both grown and dipped over the 20th and early 21st centuries. 

Gender is an important element in studying voter patterns, turnout, and political impacts during election season. Indeed, the stories of radicalism, feminism, and the women’s suffrage movement were important historical moments when key ideas about democracy and equality developed. These ideas shape how we think about voting, identity, and activism today, as described in this Soc Images post. This is particularly relevant in recent decades as more female politicians are represented in major races and as social conversations, norms, and understandings of gender evolve. This Council on Contemporary Families post breaks down the nuts and bolts of gender, voting, and the 2016 election, which point to interesting directions for for future research down the road; how will gender shape the 2020 election?

Voting in the 21st Century: A New Era of Oppression?

Protests against gerrymandering in front of the Supreme Court. Image via Flickr, CCO.

Voter suppression is on the rise in the USA, which is ironic given the prevalence of “Get Out the Vote!” messaging. Social scientists have investigated voter restriction laws, legislation, and policies implemented in the 2000’s and 2010’s  as a new chapter in America’s troubled history with voter suppression and voting right’s restriction. As described by this TSP Special, we’re over fifty years past the Voting Rights Act, yet voter suppression seems to be gaining momentum in recent years. History is indeed repeating itself as shown in this Soc Images post about voter suppression in the past and in the present.

Voter suppression can happen at the level of large locales or entire states. “Gerrymandering” is a process in which electoral maps are redrawn to favor one party over the others; the name is inspired by a salamander-shaped picture of a district which politicians had  redrawn so that voters from one region would cancel out others. Regardless of political affiliation or partisanship, we should all be concerned by the very real threat that Gerrymandering represents to our democracy, voting, and election outcomes, as explained by this TROT post and this Soc Images post.

One important dimension of voter suppression is felon disenfranchisement, wherein Americans convicted of a felony lose their right to vote. In recent decades, legislators have created new laws which expand the definition of felonious crimes; this has developed alongside other inequalities in policing, incarceration, and the criminal justice system. Thus, felon disenfranchisement represents an important product and driver of contemporary inequalities in the USA that unfold on racial and class lines, as described by several different #TSPClassics. TSP Editor Chris Uggen has been a major contributor to this area; his and colleagues’ research shows that millions of American votes have been lost to felon disenfranchisement, as discussed on The Sentencing Project.

Voter disenfranchisement has taken on a new face, as described in this post from Soc Images.  As Scholar Strategy Network explains, seemingly-innocent but problematic methods of voter suppression include the passage of voter ID laws and other individual requirements. These laws require voters to have financial resources and access to public institutions such as a local DMV. These requirements disproportionately affect racial minorities, the poor, the elderly, and other groups in the USA who already experience structural inequalities. Voter ID laws, as explained here by Soc Images, represent another chapter in voter suppression which thusly works to prevent people from accessing their right to vote.

Scholars in sociology and beyond have raised concerns about the recent growth of voter suppression and its consequences. Learn about the many dimensions of social science research on voter suppression from this post by Scholars Strategy Network’s research compendium. Voter suppression is a fundamental attack on the rights of citizenship and the pursuit of specific laws and rules that  make it harder to vote is often a targeted  strategy to prevent certain populations from voting. This post from Scholars Strategy Network presents research on politicians’ and policymakers’ attempts to suppress the vote of racial minorities.

Voter suppression has not waned in the twenty-first century. Most scholars agree that the problem has only gotten worse in  recent years. An important consequence of ongoing voter restriction is the distortion of the electorate. This means that rather than representing the general American population, the electorate is whiter and more conservative, as described by this Soc Images post. As described in this TROT post, the racial, class, and other inequalities heightened by voter suppression mean that gaps in who can vote have tangible, direct impacts on elections, politics, and policy.

“Democracy:” Elections and Beyond

Image from the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, D.C. Image via Flickr, CCO.

Voting is a cornerstone of our democratic state and is the primary method by which the average citizen can impact politics. And yes, your vote matters!  This post from Sociological Images discusses how voting relates to public policy and how voter turnout predicts how public policies unfold. As described in this post from Cyborgology, elections and voting represent an important symbolic, social ritual for the fulfilment of democracy.This post from Feminist Reflections, aptly titled “When Women Roar,” considers gender in the 2016 election and politics as related to pop culture and equality in representation. 

Voting and election day can tell us a lot about our society; elections and voting are snapshots of social change and progress, as described by this TSP Special about the intersections of professional sports league, profits, and politics. We should remember, however, that being an involved citizen goes beyond Election Day. Social movements and activism are important parts of the democratic process and social change in a democracy, as described by this TSP Special. As we move forward, we should remember that voting is only one way to participate in democracy That being said, the right to vote–which some people take for  granted–has been increasingly restricted in recent years via several forms of voter suppression. We must continue  academic research and provide critical solutions to tackle this source of inequality and threat to our democracy.  We could also expand access to voting by modernizing   voter registration and voting as described in this post from SSN.  And, as many of us vote remotely during COVID, it’s important to reiterate that voter fraud is not a major issue in the USA, as described by this TSP Teaching post. Social science can help us move towards a future  with increased voting access and voter participation.

A woman helps an elderly man get up from his chair
Photo by Brian Walker, Flickr CC

When we talk about work, we often miss a type of work that is crucial to keeping the economy going and arguably more challenging and difficult than ever under conditions of quarantine and social distancing: care work. Care work includes both paid and unpaid services caring for children, the elderly, and those who are sick and disabled, including bathing, cooking, getting groceries, and cleaning.

Sociologists have found that caregiving that happens within families is not always viewed as work, yet it is a critical part of keeping the paid work sector running. Children need to eat and be bathed and clothed. Families need groceries. Houses need to be cleaned. As many schools in the United States are closed and employees are working from home, parents are having to navigate extended caring duties. Globally, women do most of this caring labor, even when they also work outside of the home. 
Photo of a woman cooking
Photo by spablab, Flickr CC
Globally, women do most of this caring labor, even when they also work outside of the home. Historically, wealthy white women were able to escape these caring duties by employing women of color to care for their children and households, from enslaved African Americans to domestic servants. Today people of color, immigrants, and those with little education are overrepresented in care work with the worst job conditions. 
In the past decade, the care work sector has grown substantially in the United States. However, care workers are still paid low wages and receive little to no benefits. In fact, care work wages are stagnant or declining, despite an overall rise in education levels for workers. Thus, many care workers — women especially — find themselves living in poverty.  

Caring is important for a society to function, yet care work — paid or unpaid — is still undervalued. In this time of COVID-19 where people are renegotiating how to live and work, attention to caring and appreciation for care work is more necessary than ever.

A student takes notes by hand. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

If you believe that taking notes longhand is better than typing (especially that typing leads to verbatim transcription but writing helps with processing ideas), you have probably seen a reference to Mueller and Oppenheimer (2014). We even featured it in a TROT last fall. The Pen is Mightier Than the Keyboard has over 900 citations on Google Scholar, but is also a staple on Twitter, blogs, and news articles. According to Altmetric, it has been cited in 224 stories in 137 news outlets the past two years (two years after it was published), and linked to on Twitter almost 3,000 times. 

But new research suggests that its fame was premature. How Much Mightier Is the Pen than the Keyboard for Note-Taking? A Replication and Extension of Mueller and Oppenheimer argues that research has not yet determined whether writing or typing is categorically better for class achievement. The new study (a direct replication of the original study) did find a slight advantage for those taking notes by hand, but unlike in the original study, the differences were not statistically significant. 
The new study also expanded the original by including a group with eWriters, an electronic form of notetaking that allows students to write on a screen. As our original blog noted, much of the research on laptops in the classroom revolves around their potential to be distractions, and research on notetaking needs to take into account advances in technology that could lead to better notetaking environments as well as assisting students with disabilities. Morehead, Dunlosky, and Rawson find that eWriters, although not in common use, could be a bridge between paper and the distraction-laden environment of laptops. 
Photo of a plaque commemorating Ida B. Wells. Photo by Adam Jones, Flickr CC

As Black History month draws to a close, it’s important to celebrate the work of Black scholars that contributed to social science research. Although the discipline has begun to recognize the foundational work of scholars like W.E.B. DuBois, academia largely excluded Black women from public intellectual space until the mid-20th century. Yet, as Patricia Hill Collins reminds us, they leave contemporary sociologists with a a long and rich intellectual legacy. This week we celebrate the (often forgotten) Black women who continue to inspire sociological studies regarding Black feminist thought, critical race theory, and methodology.

Ida B. Wells (1862-1931) was a pioneering social analyst and activist who wrote and protested against many forms of racism and sexism during the late 19th and early 20th century. She protested Jim Crow segregation laws, founded a Black women’s suffrage movement, and became one of the founding members of the NAACP. But Wells is best-known for her work on lynchings and her international anti-lynching campaign. While Wells is most commonly envisioned as a journalist by trade, much of her work has inspired sociological research. This is especially true for her most famous works on lynchings, Southern Horrors (1892) and The Red Record (1895).
In Southern Horrors (1892), Wells challenged the common justification for lynchings of Black men for rape and other crimes involving white women. She adamantly criticized white newspaper coverage of lynchings that induced fear-mongering around interracial sex and framed Black men as criminals deserving of this form of mob violence. Using reports and media coverage of lynchings – including a lynching of three of her close friends – she demonstrated that lynchings were not responses to crime, but rather tools of political and economic control by white elites to maintain their dominance. In The Red Record (1895), she used lynching statistics from the Chicago Tribune to debunk rape myths, and demonstrated how the pillars of democratic society, such as right to a fair trial and equality before the law, did not extend to African American men and women.
Anna Julia Cooper (1858-1964) was an avid educator and public speaker. In 1982, her first book was published, A Voice from the South: By A Black Woman of the South. It was one of the first texts to highlight the race- and gender-specific conditions Black women encountered in the aftermath of Reconstruction. Cooper argued that Black women’s and girls’ educational attainment was vital for the overall progress of Black Americans. In doing so, she challenged notions that Black Americans’ plight was synonymous with Black men’s struggle. While Cooper’s work has been criticized for its emphasis on racial uplift and respectability politics, several Black feminists credit her work as crucial for understanding intersectionality, a fundamentally important idea in sociological scholarship today.
As one of the first Black editors for an American Sociological Association journal, Jacquelyn Mary Johnson Jackson (1932-2004) made significant advances in medical sociology. Her work focused on the process of aging in Black communities. Jackson dismantled assumptions that aging occurs in a vacuum. Instead, her scholarship linked Black aging to broader social conditions of inequality such as housing and transportation. But beyond scholarly research, Jackson sought to develop socially relevant research that could reach the populations of interest. As such, she identified as both a scholar and activist and sought to use her work as a tool for liberation.

Together, these Black women scholars challenged leading assumptions regarding biological and cultural inferiority, Black criminality, and patriarchy from both white and Black men. Their work and commitment to scholarship demonstrates how sociology may be used as a tool for social justice. Recent developments such as the #CiteBlackWomen campaign draw long-overdue attention to their work, encouraging the scholarly community to cite Wells, Cooper, Jackson, and other Black women scholars in our research and syllabi.

A man reads a newspaper by the wall, by Garry Knight, via Flickr CC.

This post was created in collaboration with the Minnesota Journalism Center

According to Gallup, 45% of Americans polled trusted the mass media in 2018. Reuters Institute’s 2019 Digital News Report found similar trends among citizens in 37 countries around the globe: the average level of trust in the news is at 42%, and only 23% say they trust news they find on social media. Further, Edelman’s 2019 Trust Barometer found that, globally, people trust their employers, NGOs, and businesses before the media “to do what is right.”

Media literacy goes hand in hand with trust in the media, especially for younger generations. But studies show that news media has become neglected in media literacy education systems worldwide. To help young people in school better understand how to cultivate a sense of literacy about news consumption, educators could provide examples of what positive engagement with social media and news looks like. Studies show that recommending what young people shouldn’t do on social media — something scholars call “protectionist discourse” — isn’t very helpful.
Scholars argue that it is also useful to distinguish news literacy from concepts such as media literacy and digital literacy. According to Melissa Tully and colleagues, news literacy is defined as: “Knowledge of the personal and social processes by which news is produced, distributed, and consumed, and skills that allow users some control over these processes.” In this model, news literacy includes: “Context,” “Consumption,” “Circulation,” “Creation,” and “Content.”
These 5 “C’s” contribute to how media literacy is part of a healthy, functioning democracy: in a polarized era of partisanship and distrust (learn more about political polarization here), literacy can help consumers embrace differences and facilitate connections for the common good. However, some citizens avoid the news altogether. These “news avoiders” contribute to a culture that evades the need for literacy altogether in a post-fact and post-truth society.
Harvard vs. Bucknell football game. Photo by Yzukerman, Flickr CC

There is no shortage of writing on the history of college sports, especially its history of scandal. There is also plenty of writing on how big-time college sports harm both the colleges and their athletes. Books as varied as Pay for Play: A History of Big-Time College Athletic Reform, College Sports Inc.: The Athletic Department vs. The University and College Athletes for Hire: The Evolution and Legacy of the NCAA’s Amateur Myth highlight the rise of the NCAA through and because of scandal, the enormous amounts of money flowing through college athletic departments (but not to players), and the contortions of universities to fit big-time athletics.

But athletics matter even in schools defined by their academics rather than their sports. Documents from the recent Harvard affirmative action legal case confirm prior research: even at the Ivies and at coed liberal arts colleges, athletes receive a substantial admissions bump. Articles from The Atlantic and Slate detail this bump and how it especially benefits upper-class white students. At Ivies and elite liberal arts colleges, the potential financial gain from athletics (as suspect as that might be at other schools) doesn’t make sense as the primary reason to keep sports in these schools. So what are some other reasons that American higher education institutions prioritize athletics? Here are three that sociological thinking and research can help us understand.

1.Status Networks and Peer Institutions

First, athletics helps schools signal who their peers are, both academically and athletically. Higher education in the United States didn’t develop from a master plan. It is, instead, a network and market of schools that jockey for position, carving out niches and constantly battling for status. Athletic conferences are one way that institutions establish networks, and research has found that schools within conferences come to share similar status, both athletically and academically. The Ivy League is the prime example of this phenomenon. Although “the Ivies” have come to mean a set of elite schools, the league began as simply a commitment to compete against each other on the athletic playing field. 

2. Competing for Students

Another way that colleges signal prestige is through established ranking systems, and a key part of those rankings come from measures of selectivity and the quality undergraduate students. So all colleges are competing for students — either to solidify rankings or to simply matriculate enough students for small, tuition-dependent institutions to be able to pay the bills. In Creating a Class, Mitchell Stevens points out how important athletics are to recruiting students within the competitive, small liberal arts space. He writes,

“Students choose schools for multiple reasons, and the ability to participate in a particular sport at a competitive level of play is often an important one. Because so many talented students also are serious athletes, colleges eager to admit students with top academic credentials are obliged to maintain at least passable teams and to support them with competitive facilities.”

3. Non-academic Signals in Admissions

Histories of Ivy League admissions have revealed how including athletic markers was part of establishing who belonged at the school. On the most obvious level, prominent alumni who were athletes or the parents of prospective students publicly pushed for admissions policies that would be beneficial to others like them. But more subtly, and more insidiously, having an affinity for athletics was viewed as a mark of the “Yale man,” the upper-class, Christian, future leader of the world who had the presence of mind and body to pick up new ideas and manage others. 

Athletics in colleges isn’t just a money-maker or something to keep students happy. It’s a way for colleges to recruit students, fight for status, and signal what types of students they value.