#NJCAAForward: Navigating the future of two-year college athletics

What does the future hold for two-year college athletics?

Dr. Christopher J. Parker

President & CEO / National Junior College Athletic Association


Before you can begin to navigate the world of two-year college athletics, you must first understand and appreciate its full value. Two-year college athletics play a pivotal role in enrollment, completion, student engagement, student development, student success, and diversification just to name a few. Two-year colleges have supported intercollegiate athletics across the nation for more than 85 years with some of the most prominent student-athletes jumpstarting their career at the two-year college level. Regardless of the individual properties that make up junior colleges, community colleges, or technical colleges, each institution exists to best serve its student-athletes so that they may go on to impact the world in more ways than conceivable. 

Understanding the Importance  

Two-year college athletics matter! Athletic programs at two-year institutions bestow access to higher education for thousands of individuals while issuing an unrivaled college experience. Student-athletes are ultimately cohorts of students who are motivated, goal oriented, coachable, and dedicated. They have proven over and over to sustain the dynamics of adversity and accomplish greatness, not just on the playing surface, but also in the classroom. Numerous programs of study demonstrate the power of a student belonging to a collective group – health care programs like nursing, respiratory therapy, physical therapy, among many more are great examples. Being part of a sports team is more meaningful than competing, it is an accomplishment that one should be proud of. Just as with the demanding healthcare programs of study much is expected from them. Do student-athletes carry themselves a little differently? While some may, the makeup of a two-year college program contains one of the most diverse groups across campus. How many are from your local community, while how many are from outside of your local community or state, and how many of them are international students? They bring a sense of diversification that everyone on your campus can learn from in many different manners.  

What about from an enrollment perspective? How many student-athletes does it take to make a financial difference on your campus regarding enrollment? That certainly depends on what your philosophy is, but rest assured it is one sure way to fill open seats in your classrooms that already have capacity. It is another to know that the odds are in the favor of student academic success as student-athletes continue to outperform the general student body in the classroom setting with higher retention and completion rates, as well as higher grade point averages. Student-athletes have a strong support mechanism in place from their coaches and fellow athletic support staff accompanied by their already driven desires to move on to the next level where appropriate. These combined factors lead to sustained success as a whole.  

What about the athletic opportunity? Did you ever think that having a sports team on your campus is actually the most significant reason why many students even enrolled in college at all? Well, it is the truth. Thousands of students enroll at two-year colleges for that continued desire to compete in a sport that he or she loves. What is the leading advantage for everyone in this? It is the fact that he or she is earning an education, a college education. It does not just stop at the student-athletes. It goes further to encompass band members, dance teams, siblings, and close friends who follow along with the desire to be connected. In Yuma, Arizona, everyone knows what it means to be a Matador because Arizona Western's brand carries significant weight in the community and nationally while it connects supporters, fundraisers, and a sense of loyalty to the college as a whole. That is just the beginning. 

COVID-19 Impact 

Like all intercollegiate, high school and professional sports, the two-year colleges saw athletic participation come to an immediate halt due to the outbreak of COVID-19 in the spring semester of 2020. But what did we learn? We learned that student-athletes and everyone involved are resilient, but the passion and fire have never left their souls for the sports that their hearts so yearn to play. We have learned that sports are pivotal to the outreach of a campus and so often they play a connecting piece to the world of two-year colleges. We have learned that sports really do make people tick. We have learned that the conversations regarding higher education ultimately must have sports as a part of that dialogue regarding student-life, development, and academic success. We have also learned that sports are still a constant, but they are not untouchable. Rather they have to make the adjustments that everyone else must make and keep the focus on the ultimate goal and mission of the college that is supporting them.   

The Future of Two-Year College Athletics 

As a nation, when struggles and outbreaks hit our country, we have looked to sports for a sense of comfort and relief. Our country has at times felt tragic loss and devastation, but the pandemic has presented unheralded challenges that we must face head on. We stripped the world of sports, all sports, at all levels. But where does that leave us, as the leaders whose jobs and life's work is to support growth in all aspects of life while leading through these times of chaos within higher education? It leaves me personally reminding others that sports are not just some activity that we watch and use resources towards. It truly is an investment that can have as much return as one is willing to invest in. Two-year college athletics will always have a place in higher education; however, it certainly may look different. There may be some changes in two-year college sport offerings and in the way business is conducted, nonetheless sports will remain intact. Now more than ever before, the opportunities available at the two-year college level are grabbing the attention of many. Why? Because they see safety and security in a two-year college environment. They are beginning to understand the financial savings and all the affordable opportunities at two-year colleges. They are starting to learn that academic standards are the same for two-year colleges and that the expectations are no less than anywhere else they would attend. More importantly, they are starting to remove the thoughts that attending a two-year college is anything less than a great decision.   

Collectively, two-year colleges will continue to thrive in the field of athletic offerings. Students from all over the United States and internationally will continue to look to two-year colleges as a way to begin their academic and athletic careers. For the rest of us, we will continue to make an investment in students by knowing that athletics at the two-year college level may ultimately begin to shape their future as they embark on their journey. 

For more information on two-year college athletics, visit www.njcaa.org 

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