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Return on Athletics™ Defined

It's no secret that participation in collegiate athletics can positively shape a student-athlete’s future. In addition to scholarship dollars, benefits can include the development of leadership skills, a strong work ethic, and lifelong relationships. But what about the college itself? Is it possible to measure the return on athletics at the institutional level?

The NAIA believes so and is working to identify measurable, quantifiable benefits. While anecdotes can convey the importance of athletics to institutional culture, there is a need for data that can quantify the benefits of NAIA membership to an institution. Return on Athletics™ (ROA) is the NAIA’s proprietary approach to the management of collegiate athletics, putting the business of our member institutions front and center.



While collegiate athletics interconnects with nearly every point of the student-lifecycle, it’s important that ROA’s focus tie directly to a business approach beneficial to NAIA institutions. In that respect, the recruitment of student-athletes is a vital component of many strategic enrollment management plans. What factors contribute to a prospective student-athlete’s decision to attend an NAIA institution? Can enrollment be increased through the addition of sports teams and junior varsity programming? By more closely examining student-athlete enrollment patterns, ROA will assist with determining the NAIA’s value in converting prospects to students.
Equally important as enrollment of new students is retention of current students. Student engagement has been shown to be a powerful predictor of retention and athletics provides a significant opportunity for improved campus life and community engagement. Athletics has the ability to create a distinct, collegiate atmosphere that can serve as a “front porch” for an institution and directly influence the student experience. Consequently, this engagement and retention directly supports both institutional missions and financial stability.
Finally, how does enrollment and retention translate into revenue for our institutions? One major source is through student-athletes’ room, board, and tuition. By strategically using athletic financial aid in combination with other institutional, state, and federal financial incentives, administrators can increase net tuition revenue and compete favorably with larger private and public institutions. Athletics can also play an important role in alumni engagement and fundraising.



ROA will be completed in three phases. The first phase focuses on existing data and analytics to better articulate the NAIA’s value to both current and prospective members. Phase one establishes the baseline value upon which the NAIA can build.

Phase two builds upon current NAIA strengths. How can athletics better increase enrollment? Is it possible to reduce the administrative burden on schools? How can we create more recruitment advantages and enhance the campus experience? These are just a few of the issues that will be examined.

Finally, phase three focuses on innovation with the ultimate goal of creating new value opportunities to better attract and retain members. In turn, this will strengthen our organization.


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  Return on Athletics Presentation, National Convention 2018