Recognizing the Benefits of California Community College Athletic Programs

By Larry Galizio, Ph.D.
President & CEO, Community College League of California 

Friday, August 31, 2018

Did you know that community college athletes are almost five times more likely to be enrolled full-time in both the Fall and Spring semesters? With a full 60% completing 30 units in their first year of enrollment, data show that sports benefit our students immensely. And our student-athletes complete their degrees at a much higher rate than the average community college student.

In addition to offering over 20,000 student-athletes the opportunity to participate in the sports they love, California community college student athletics are effective and empirically-proven student success programs. In an era when completion and student success are primary organizing principles for our sector, the data support recognition of our athletic programs as more than enticements to high school athletes, but as a means of supporting student success, completion, and mission fulfillment.

As a former high school student-athlete who benefitted immeasurably from the experience, I am frustrated by the ubiquitous stories of Division I sports scandals and tales of misdeeds, and how our programs suffer collateral damage from this narrative. While by no means perfect, our California community college athletes and programs have been subject to legislative proposals that fail to distinguish programs at USC and UCLA, from those at colleges such as Riverside City College or Shasta College. This occurs even though by law the 108 community colleges in California offering competitive sports are prohibited from offering athletic scholarships, and our coaches face stringent limitations on their ability to recruit athletes from outside of their district. To the credit of our athletic directors, coaches, and the California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA), we have strict concussion “return to play” protocols that protect our student-athletes. In brief, we are more focused on the academic and career success of our students than we are on institutional glory.

Many in our sector may also be unaware that the League not only shares office space with the CCCAA but operates under the same 501(c)3. While we maintain separate boards, in the last year we have deliberately strengthened our connection both in governance and in fiscal matters and oversight. And in my role on the CCCAA Board as an ex-officio member, I have become increasingly aware of both the misunderstanding and misperception that many have of our athletic programs, as well as the substantial benefits our students and institutions derive from California community college athletics.

In a state policy environment that is heavily weighted towards student success, we might consider our athletic programs as student success programs. Student-athletes are required to attend school full-time and our programs attract students who in many cases would never have pursued higher education. Most everyone at one of our colleges knows of a student-athlete who discovered a career track and academic passion that led them to continued higher education and/or a terminal degree they had not considered prior to attendance at one of our campuses. 

In fact, for many student-athletes, if it weren’t for access to quality sports, they may have never stepped foot onto a community college campus. We should celebrate our athletic programs for what they are: an effective student engagement and success strategy, an opportunity to pursue a passion, and a means to explore and discover other constructive pursuits and life-changing experiences.