Friday, November 10, 2006

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The ultimate study of higher education

With the midterms and all I forgot to highlight this article from the New York Times education supplment about why ultimate frisbee is the sport of kings:

Forget college guides, U.S. News & World Report rankings, average SAT scores. The best gauge of an institution’s ex cellence may actually be … its ultimate Frisbee team. At least that’s the theory of Dr. Michael J. Norden, a Univer sity of Washington professor of psychiatry.

Ultimate started in the 60’s as the hippie’s anti-sport — a coach-free, referee-less, noncontact game comb - i n ing the free-form elements of Frisbee with the strategy, athleticism and goal-making of football or soccer. Players call their own infractions, and “The Spirit of the Game,” the ruling document, says that while competition is encouraged, it must not be “at the expense of the bond of mutual respect between players, adherence to the agreed-upon rules of the game, or the basic joy of play.” More than 500 colleges and universities now have teams competing interscholastically.

Dr. Norden analyzed the Ultimate Players Association “power ratings” of private national universities over a decade (the ratings assess strength based on past performance), and he discovered a startling pattern. “All the schools with above-average ultimate teams also have aboveaverage graduation rates,” says Dr. Norden, whose son is, not coincidentally, a serious high school player looking for a university with a good team. “They average a 90 percent graduation rate, while the average graduation rate for private national universities is just 73 percent. Statistically, that just doesn’t happen by chance.”

Furthermore, the private universities in the top half of ultimate standings had 208 Rhodes and Marshall scholars; the bottom half, just 15. The top seven — Stanford, Brown, Harvard, Tufts, Dartmouth, Yale and Princeton — had almost as many scholars as all the rest combined. (A followup study of public and liberal arts colleges found a similar correlation.) Dr. Norden cites another distinction: “Six of those top seven universities, all but Harvard, made Princeton Review’s list of the happiest students.”

My first thought is that this is correlation and not causation, but you'll have to read the article to see why Norden thinks there is a causal relationship.

posted by Dan on 11.10.06 at 07:10 AM


The next research question is the correlation between schools that do well in ultimate and those that produce PhDs. I know at least half a dozen former or current poli sci profs (including the two of us) who played or continue to play ultimate.

But we always knew that ultimate was the sport for smart people ;)

posted by: Steve Saideman on 11.10.06 at 07:10 AM [permalink]

Carleton College has the best ultimate frisbee program of any college in the country, and it used to (I'm not certain about current statistics) have the highest per graduate rate of PhD's among colleges.

posted by: Norman Pfyster on 11.10.06 at 07:10 AM [permalink]

Norman beat me to it (oh Carleton/ my alma mater...)

But I'd also add that there's a separate factor at work in terms of the concentration in advanced degrees: eligibility. College ultimate is not an NCAA sport, and is governed by different rules, the most important being that grad students are eligible to play, so there is somewhat of an incentive for players to seek advanced degrees at universities with top teams. At a certain point that becomes self-fulfilling, as the same schools get an influx of grad students who were top players at smaller schools every year.

posted by: Pooh on 11.10.06 at 07:10 AM [permalink]

Or the simple explanation being that its a nerd sport.

posted by: Johnny Upton on 11.10.06 at 07:10 AM [permalink]

It would be great to Ethiopia but I´m not particularly convinced that Starbucks should be forced to lead this campaign. The Ethiopian government, with the help of international organizations and NGOs should be working to label the product and get international recognition through marketing campaigns and proper certifications. If they success, I am quite sure that Starbucks will be offering their at whatever the price they ask for.

posted by: Enrique on 11.10.06 at 07:10 AM [permalink]

Ultimate baby, gotta love it!

I played at Kalamazoo College, which I believe has a pretty decent graduation rate, and especially a high number of future Masters and Doctoral students.

posted by: Shawn in Tokyo on 11.10.06 at 07:10 AM [permalink]

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