President's Blog

NJCAA & Owens Team Up to #EndCCStigma

Posted on April 1st, 2019

On this first day of Community College Month, I am very pleased to re-print this Op-Ed piece I co-wrote with Dr. Chris Parker, President/CEO of the NJCAA. Our student athletes are an important part of our community college story, and Chris and I are delighted to add their voice to this important conversation. In fact, I interviewed several student athletes from across the country for the #EndCCStigma podcast project, which debuts later this week. Here is our essay:

Join Our Team:
Community College Leaders and the NJCAA Team Up to End Community College Stigma

Dr. Steve Robinson
President / Owens Community College

Dr. Christopher Parker
President  & CEO / National Junior College Athletic Association

We want you to join our team.

As the presidents of a comprehensive community college and the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA), we are recruiting a new team to end the stigma against community colleges and the athletes who compete there. At hundreds of community colleges across the United States, student-athletes are studying at table time, working out and practicing hard to achieve their dreams. We teamed up because the stigma against our institutions is real and it is not based in any objective assessment of the quality or value of our colleges. Student-athletes who attend community colleges are the star players in our arena. Their success makes us confident of victory as we fight the stigma against community colleges, provided people will listen as we tell their stories.
We want you to know that community college athletes are retained and graduated at significantly higher rates than the overall student body population. Competition, the engagement from coaches and administrators and the personal drive to continue forward are large factors in their individual success stories. In addition, community college athletes are constantly surrounded by teammates that can help maintain a constant focus and a sense of unity that adds academic success pressure to be the best he or she can be.

During the past two years, the NJCAA has seen more than 6,000 student-athletes graduate with a 3.6 GPA or higher, setting new NJCAA records in back to back years. The NJCAA provides opportunities to roughly 60,000 student-athletes a year but only half of that number would be considered sophomores, so 20 percent of all eligible graduates are completing with a GPA of 3.6 or higher. At Owens Community College, our 2018 Division III National Championship women’s volleyball team brought national recognition to our institution, not only for athletic achievement, but for academic distinction as well. This exceptional group of student-athletes recently won its fifth consecutive NJCAA Academic Team award and recorded a 3.58 team GPA, the highest in Owens Community College program history. These athletes are winners both in competition and in the classroom.

Since the late 1970s, the motto of Owens Community College has been “Your Success Starts Here.” Likewise, the NJCAA motto is “Opportunities Start Here.” We are proud to be a starting place. The term “Juco,” for example, has a very large stigma to it and the average person should understand some key factors about our association and the type of students who attend and participate in intercollegiate athletics. Student-athletes can save a significant amount of money by attending an NJCAA institution for two years before moving on to a four year college. Similarly, some student-athletes need to physically grow before competing at the next level and the NJCAA provides those opportunities daily. Additionally, some student-athletes need to academically grow before moving on, this simply means they need a strong academic setting to help them adjust to academics at the college level. And finally, yes there are scholarships at the NJCAA level.

In terms of transfer, student-athletes come in with a mindset of what the next step may be and for many it is transfer to a four-year college and continue to compete at the highest levels possible. This is truly a mindset of the individual students and coaching staff to help them succeed; however, if they decide to enroll in a trade program and compete for two years and go straight into the workforce, then our mission is also completed.

The NJCAA and its member institutions use sports and athletics as a way to center energy around education. Nearly 85 percent of our member colleges are considered community colleges and these colleges produce some outstanding student-athletes.  Such names include Bryce Harper, Sheryl Swoops, Roger Staubach, Albert Pujols, Larry Johnson, Bubba Watson and many more. But on the other hand, we open the doors for individuals who would never attend college but for the opportunity to continue to compete at the college level.  When these individuals connect with a sport and then enroll and graduate, we have completed our ultimate mission, but we have also planted the greatest seeds of success. Those seeds blossom whether the student-athletes move on to four-year colleges or go into the workforce. Most importantly, they blossom into fulfilling and rewarding lives. When first-generation college students succeed, the mindset and opportunity to attend college are passed down as a generational expectation. At that point, the stigma is erased and everyone wins because of the work of a two-year college.

How can you suit up and join our team? First, you can promote community college success stories on social media using the hashtag #EndCCStigma. If you or your family members attended or played sports at a two-year college, tell your story! Perhaps most importantly, work to change the minds of those who might not have experience with our wonderful institutions and student-athletes.

We want you on our winning team.

Steve Robinson, Ph.D.