During the recent decades, the importance of intercollegiate athletics has proliferated amongst institutions of higher education. As such, the transition through higher education for student-athletes has increasingly included experiences with challenges and barriers, which influence their success. To address difficulties, institutions and athletics departments have implemented support services and resources to assist student-athletes throughout their transition. Additionally, the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) has conducted several studies, which examined the experiences and well-being of current student-athletes. Through the Growth, Opportunities, Aspirations and Learning of Students in college (GOALS) survey, detailed information has been provided to member institutions, which has influenced the support services and resources provided to student-athletes. This study utilized the NCAA GOALS survey instrument, in addition to semi-structured interviews, to explore the experiences of 10 student-athletes with challenges and barriers as they transitioned through higher education. Furthermore, the study investigated which support services and resources student-athletes depended on and which support services or resources should be implemented to assist them during their transition. Particular questions from the NCAA GOALS survey were predetermined based on their alignment with the research questions; follow-up interviews provided additional insight into the phenomenon. The results of this study found that student-athletes do experience challenges and barriers in higher education. Five themes emerged, including time commitment, major selection, study aboard and internship, health problems and symptoms, and mental wellness. Moreover, student- athletes depended on several support services and resources, including relationships with faculty, care from team or college medical personnel, communication with parents/guardian, and academic support services. The study also found that student-athletes wished the coaches or athletics administrators talked more about budgeting/financial management, preparing for a career after college, mental wellness, and proper nutrition. The results of this study also found that the four major factors of Schlossberg's Transition Theory, situation, self, support, and strategies, were influential in the student-athletes' abilities to cope during a transition. The results of this study suggest that institutions and athletics department should continue with their support services and resources to ensure the success of their student-athletes. This was the first research done, which supplemented the NCAA GOALS study with supportive qualitative data. The findings will contribute the success of current and future student-athletes in higher education. However, future research should investigate the everchanging challenges and barriers that influence the success of student-athletes.


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Graduation Date





Cox, Thomas


Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


College of Community Innovation and Education


Educational Leadership and Higher Education

Degree Program

Educational Leadership; Higher Education Track




CFE0008207; DP0023561





Release Date

August 2020

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)