Mar 7, 2014 - By Steven R. PeckThe announced expansion brings more than rah-rah benefits to campus
This week's announcement that Central Wyoming College is expanding its collegiate sports offerings demonstrates how important on-campus sports have become for community colleges.
The addition of soccer and golf this fall will bring CWC's sports lineup to five and its team count to nine. The two new sports will field both men's and women's teams.
Cross country and golf are beneficial to the college for several reasons. The obvious one is more opportunity for students in the model of the small liberal-arts university that community colleges resemble in many ways. The more students who can find opportunity to participate in activities outside the classroom, the better the college experience is for them, and the more appealing the college is to outsiders considering where to enroll.
College sports can improve ties with the community as well. Most people enjoy following sports, and having four more Rustler teams gives the community an added rooting interest in CWC.
The choice of sports is important, and these two will make it easier for the college to recruit more athletes from Wyoming and Fremont County. Slots on the men's basketball team for local players are hard to come by, for example, but there are strong traditions in both cross country and golf locally. With these two sports, we'll see more local kids wearing the Rustler uniform.
Cross country and golf are relatively low-risk expansions. There aren't significant equipment or facilities costs. It is presumed that the fine golf course at the Riverton Country Club, which hosts U.S. Golf Association events annually, will be the home course for the Rustlers, who also could host an invitational at the Lander course.
As for cross country, no competition venue is required at all other than a stretch of open terrain -- something we've got a lot of around here.
Equipment costs will be minimal as well compared to trying to field a football or baseball team. Golfers have their own clubs, and runners have their preferred shoes. For the college, it's a matter of some golf bags and uniforms and not much else.
Those benefits are clear enough. Less obviously, what's changed in recent years is the way in which community colleges can count students. It's now much more important for CWC to be able to show a stable, preferably growing, number of on-campus "residential" students. The non-traditional students taking oil-painting or a night business class remain important parts of the college's mission, but in terms of certification, evaluation and funding, it has become crucial to demonstrate that the bulk of the enrollment is comprised of full-time, degree-seeking students.
That's where student athletes become even more important. A middle-aged empty-nester might sign up to take a guitar class, but he's never going to suit up for the Rustlers in a sport. That honor is reserved for full-time scholarship recipients who come to campus, sign up for a full course load, live in campus housing, and solidify the college's educational profile for legislators, grant funders and accreditors who have imposed new requirements that reward schools with full dorms and more degree seekers than educational dabblers.
The two new sports, each with a men's and women's team, could boost full-time enrollment by 50 or more, depending on how big the rosters will be. The presumption is that most of the new athletes will reside in campus housing. Those are important elements of the college profile that CWC felt needed to be addressed, and it is addressing them.
No wonder the school also announced that it will look into offering collegiate soccer in a couple of years as well. College sports, it turns out, bring important advantages with them, both externally and internally.
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