Indiana State University Newsroom

College Try: ISU educators turn to sports, Greek system in developing students

August 6, 2012

When Indiana State University researchers Will Barratt and Mark Frederick embarked on deciphering how college students are learning, what they found left them astonished.

Collegiate athletes and students in fraternities and sororities developed the most during their university years - especially when compared to most of their peers.

"This is serendipitous data," Barratt said. "We did not go looking for athletes or those in the Greek system."

Barratt and Frederick surveyed thousands of college students across the country from 2005 to 2010 to determine student growth and development during their four years in college. The University Learning Outcomes Assessment, also known as the UniLOA, measures self-reporting on areas employers, professors and others deem critical, including critical thinking, self-awareness, communication and diversity, among others.

Barratt and Frederick were able to quantify that college students in a structured, highly engaged environment achieve higher rates of self-reported holistic development than students not involved in such activities. Those uninvolved students develop at a rate much similar to their peers not taking college courses.

"We weren't surprised that learning and development occurred in these students, but rather, with the degree of learning and development that occurred," Frederick said. "Research in higher education has consistently supported the argument that engagement and involvement promotes growth, so to that end, our results support the earlier findings. But with our work, we can now quantify the growth that occurs from that engagement and involvement and our surprise centers on the degree of growth."

Barratt and Frederick have already worked with several universities and other organizations, including fraternities and sororities, to provide guidance for student programming based on the results. Yet they caution that it is not meant to serve a universal, catch-all approach.

"I think campuses need to understand their students' growth, and the experiences that lead or don't lead to student growth," Barratt said. "This pattern may be different on a Division-I and a Division-III campus. Every campus needs its own data."

This summer, Barratt and Frederick also unveiled a new plan they call a "metatheodel," or a combination of student developmental models and theories, that they combined with the results of the UniLOA survey to create a plan to help students develop in college.

The basis of the model starts with the understanding that, as a result of standardized primary and secondary schooling, first-year college students arrive on campuses "far from a state where refined skills of self-management and independence should be assumed," they wrote in an overview of the model.

"What a beautiful model we have that exists in higher education because it would support meeting all those unique needs on the part of students within the structure that already exists," Frederick said.

Students partner with a "significant other," or a mentor to help in their development as they evolve from a dependent state where the mentor works closely with the student, to an independent state before finally reaching the "state of interdependence" where they can take on leadership positions and maintain a state of independence while also working with others.

"It doesn't appear to be a really sophisticated approach," Frederick said. "However, it hits on all the points that we've been talking about in what we've learned over the last six years."

The significant other's role would be similar to a mentoring position in certain organizations or extracurricular activities, such as an athletic coach or a team captain. While students receive an education through their classes and other coursework, Barratt and Frederick hope that the new plan provides additional lessons for students to develop additional skills highly sought by employers, they said.

"A highly educated citizenry is more than just people who have skills in one targeted area, and higher education has bought into that notion for decades...," Frederick added. "At the same time, they're getting this other insistence to get students out in four years because that cuts their cost. We have to find a way to combine the two."

They have already met with several state and national education officials in Indianapolis and Washington, D.C. They are still getting the message out, as no university or organization has implemented the newly designed metatheodel.

The results have already turned heads, not the least of which are the UniLOA creators themselves.

"I have not been a fan of collegiate athletics nor a fan of fraternities and sororities," Barratt said. "The data has made me change my mind. I'm now a believer."

Photo: (ISU/Tony Campbell) Indiana State University students in the simulated manufacturing company (SIMCO) class in the College of Technology create degree frames as part of a project. In the course, students conceive, create and market a product of their creation. Indiana State researchers Will Barratt and Mark Frederick discovered through the UniLOA survey that college students in a structured, highly engaged environment achieve higher rates of self-reported holistic development than students not involved in such activities. They have used the survey to create the metatheodel to advise on the best way for universities to foster student development.

Photo: Mark Frederick

Photo: Barratt

Contact: Mark Frederick, Chief Operations Officer, Center for Measuring College Student Behaviors and Academics, co-developer of the University Learning Outcomes Assessment (UniLOA), Bayh College of Education, Indiana State University, 812-239-6519 or

Writer: Austin Arceo, assistant director of media relations, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or

Story Highlights

ISU researchers Will Barratt and Mark Frederick created the University Learning Outcomes Assessment, also known as the UniLOA, which measures self-reporting on areas employers, professors and others deem critical.

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