Academic Exchange Quarterly Spring 2011 ISSN 1096-1453 Volume 15, Issue 2

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Urban Community College Athletics


Katherine M. Conway, Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY

Ginelle John, New York University

Frances Stage, New York University


Conway, Ph.D. is a Professor of Business; Stage, Ph.D.  is a Professor of Administration, Leadership, and Technology and John is a doctoral candidate in the Administration, Leadership, and Technology program.




This study examined athletic programs at the 15 largest community colleges in the U.S., measured by full-time enrollment, to determine whether students at urban community colleges were afforded opportunities for social integration via athletics on par with their peers in rural and suburban community colleges.  The findings revealed that large urban colleges offered fewer sports teams, spent less on their athletic programs as a proportion of overall student service expenditures, but were more likely to offer athletic aid, although offered it in smaller amounts than similarly sized suburban and rural colleges.



Little has been written about the community college athlete, despite the fact that in excess of 78,000 students participate annually in intercollegiate community college athletics (Hagedorn & Horton, 2009). Community colleges are the entry point to higher education for 42% of new college freshman, many of whom share characteristics with the student athlete: first generation, academically underprepared and from an underrepresented ethnic/racial group (Brown, 2004; Hall 2007).  Community college athletics is likely the largest extracurricular activity by number of participants (Castañeda, 2004) and may be an important means of social integration for the athletes as well as a means of building community among the non-athlete students, faculty and staff. 


Urban community colleges enroll 38% of all first-time community college students but represent a little over one-quarter of student-athletes in community colleges (Bush, Castañeda, Hardy & Katsinas, 2009).  Given that the largest proportions of community college students are enrolled in urban community colleges but have the lowest participation in athletics on urban community college campuses, our goal was to better understand the profile of urban community college athletics at the institutional level.  Research shows that student involvement leads to greater integration and promotes institutional commitment, and that involvement can be particularly beneficial for underrepresented groups of students (Astin, 1996).


Some college presidents believe that athletics fosters institutional pride and leads to increased community interaction but are of varied opinions as to whether or not athletics supports their mission (Williams & Pennington, 2008).  Information on whether athletics is a help or a hindrance to student athletes is mixed and more data is needed.


The purpose of this study is to expand upon the limited body of knowledge currently available on urban community college athletics.  Urban community colleges (versus those in suburban or rural locales) have the highest black student enrollments and more than double the Hispanic enrollments of their rural counterparts (Waller, Tietjen-Smith, Davis, Copeland, 2008) and are often the “gateway to democracy” for “the economically, educationally and ethnically disadvantaged” student (Hirose-Wong, 1999).  Given the vast amount of literature on the benefits of both academic and social integration (Nora, Attinasi & Matonak, 1990) participation in athletic activities has the potential to positively contribute to academic success by building greater institutional commitment for both the athletes and others.  This article will add to the limited research available on community college athletics, so that more informed decisions can be made regarding support for extracurricular activities, a key component of social integration.


Literature Review

The Diversity of Community Colleges. Community colleges are as diverse as their students and consideration should be given to the characteristics of the institution as well as the student when considering issues of access and success, and in the evaluation of student services, including extracurricular activities like athletics.  The size and location of the community college can impact student success. One study showed that attendance in a large, minority dominated community college hinders persistence and other research found that urban community colleges were predicted to have a 4% lower graduation rate, when compared to the “average” community college (Bailey, Calcagno, Jenkins, Kienzl & Leinbach, 2005).   Measuring the retention of first-time degree/certificate seeking students who reenrolled the following fall, Waller and Tietjen-Smith (2009) found that full-time students were more likely than part-time students to return, and that for all students’ retention was highest in suburban colleges and lowest in rural colleges, with urban colleges in the middle.   


College Athletics.  Much research on community college athletics has been in the form of small qualitative studies, which are often limited not only by their size but by the homogeneity of the participants (Horton, 2009).  A limited number of quantitative studies have focused on community college athletes, with varied findings.  One study found that female athletes earned higher G.P.A.s and more credits than male athletes; athletes earned more credits but fewer credits in transfer courses and lower G.PA.s than non athletes; and black and Hispanic athletes earned higher G.P.A.s than their non athlete counterparts (Kanter & Lewis, 1991).  Another study found that athletes graduated at four times the rate of non-athletes, but also withdrew from the college in greater numbers than their non-athlete peers (Galbato, 1993). In a study of black male athletes, the athletes had higher rates of retention compared to their non-athlete peers, attributed to greater social and academic integration (Carr, Kangas & Anderson, 1992).


An Oklahoma state system study found that graduation rates of community college scholarship athletes decreased over a three year period but that athletes graduated at higher rates than their non-athletic peers in the community college.  Participation in athletics led to higher graduation rates at the two year colleges for both white students and African-American students (Comparison of Graduation Rates, 1997). Palomar College (2002) found that athletes stayed in school longer and earned degrees faster than the non-athlete students. A study of student athlete transcripts found that the students successfully completed 86% of the semester hours attempted but almost a third of grades were fail, withdraw or in non-credit bearing classes (Hobneck, Mudge & Turchi, 2003).  


Numerous studies have explored gender equity in community colleges, focusing on Title IX compliance (Castañeda, Katsinas & Hardy, 2008; Staurowsky, 2009).  Other community college athletic research has examined perceptions of college leaders (Williams & Pennington, 2006), explored transportation practices (Lavetter, & Kim, 2010) or focused on rural colleges (Castaneda, Katsinas & Harvey, 2006).


Research Hypothesis

Students attending large, urban community colleges have more limited opportunities for social integration in the form of athletic participation than their peers at large rural and suburban community colleges.


Research Methods

Two datasets were merged: U.S. Department of Education's Equity in Athletic Data Analysis (U.S. Department of Education, 2010a) data was used to obtain information on athletic programs at public two-year colleges with enrollments of more than 10,000 full-time students and Integrated Postsecondary Data System (IPEDS) (U.S. Department of Education, 2010b) data was used to identify location, Carnegie Classification, and 2008-2009 full-time/part-time student enrollment for each institution.  A profile of athletics in urban community colleges was created (enrollment, numbers of student athletes, sports sponsored, athletic revenues and expenditures, participation by gender, scholarship aid awarded) and comparisons using descriptive statistics were made across three institutional types: urban, rural and suburban community colleges.  



As seen in Table 1, among the fifteen largest community colleges in the country, measured in terms of full-time enrollment, most were urban campuses (n=8) enrolling more than half of the total 400,000 students in the sample and a greater proportion of part-time students than their rural and suburban peers.  The percentage of part-time students ranged from 11% at the rural college to 53% at the suburban colleges and 58% at the urban colleges.  The greater part-time enrollment likely contributes to the lower proportion of students who participate in athletics at urban community colleges, since athletic participation requires full-time enrollment.  However the suburban campuses also enrolled more part-time students than full-time but had the greatest athletic participation.


Table 1

Participation in Intercollegiate Athletics as a Proportion of Full Time Enrollment at Public, Two-Year Institutions with Enrollment of 10,000 and Above by Gender



Student Athletes as a % of Enrollment

Carnegie Basic Classification (2005)

Total Students

Full Time Students

Part Time Students


Part Time Student


Full Time









Rural (N=1)







Suburban (N=6)







Urban (N=8)







Data for student services expenditures obtained from 2008-2009 Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).  Data for the total team expenditures obtained from most recent Equity in Athletics Data Analysis (EADA) Cutting Tool for the reporting year 2009.


As seen in Table 2, students on suburban campuses were offered a wider range of sports teams on which to participate.  Suburban colleges offered on average 10 teams for men and nine for women, a rate twice as high as their urban counterparts. The five most commonly offered sports were the same at rural, suburban and urban colleges for female athletes.  The sports for men were largely the same across college types, with the exception of football which was in the top 5 only at rural colleges, supplanting track and field at the other colleges.  The rural college had the greatest gender imbalance, with men participating at a rate almost three times greater than women, likely in part due to large football rosters.  Urban campuses did not fare much better with men participating almost two and a half times as often as women.  Female athletes fared best at suburban campuses but still were not represented in numbers equal to male athletes, with males participating 1.7x as often as females.  Urban campuses were more likely to offer athletic aid to athletes than their suburban peers, but offered less aid on average to athletes than their rural and suburban counterparts.  Athletic aid averaged $1,399 per athlete at urban colleges, compared to $3,424 at suburban colleges and $4,564 at rural colleges.














Table 2

Sports Team Offerings and Participation by Gender and Total Athletic Aid Awarded at Public, Two-Year Institutions with Enrollment of 10,000 and Above

Carnegie Basic Classification (2005)

Average # of Teams

Avg. Ratio of Athletic Part-icipation

Five Most Commonly Offered Sports

Avg. Athletic Aid/ Student Athlete in Schools Awarding Aid and No. of Schools Awarding Aid








Rural (N =1)




basketball baseball football golf soccer

basketball soccer


track & field volleyball

$4,564  (n=1)

Suburban (N=6)




basketball baseball golf soccer track & field

$3,424  (n=1)

Urban (N=8)





(n= 5)

Data for student services expenditures obtained from 2008-2009 Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).  Data for the total team expenditures obtained from most recent Equity in Athletics Data Analysis (EADA) Cutting Tool for the reporting year 2009.



As seen in Table 3, the level of athletic expenditures was markedly different at the rural college, which spent 27% of its total student services expenditures on men’s athletic programs, and 17% on women’s programs, or 44% of its total student services expenditures on athletics.   By comparison, the suburban and urban campuses spent 4-5% of their total student services budget on athletics for both their men’s and women’s teams.  On both per team and per athlete bases the spending at the rural college far out-paced spending at the suburban and urban colleges.  The differential is likely in part due to the addition of football at the rural campus, which would significantly increase men’s athletic spending.  Spending on women’s athletics at the rural college however also dwarfed spending at the suburban and urban colleges for women’s athletics, despite the fact that the most commonly offered sports were the same at all three types of colleges.  Additionally on a per team basis, spending for men’s team’s exceeded spending for women’s teams across all three college types.



















Table 3

Athletic Expenditures at Public Two-Year Institutions with Enrollment of 10,000 and Above by Gender


Carnegie Basic Classification



Total  No. of Teams/

Total  No. of Athletes


Athletic  Expenditures


Avg. $ Per Athlete/

Avg. $ Per Team

As a % of Total Student Services Expend-itures

















Suburban (N=5)







Urban (N=8)







Data for student services expenditures obtained from 2008-2009 Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).  Data for the total team expenditures obtained from most recent Equity in Athletics Data Analysis (EADA) Cutting Tool for the reporting year 2009.



The rural college spent $431,192 on average for each of its three men’s teams, compared with $55,153 at the suburban colleges and $88, 089 at the urban colleges. For women’s teams, the rural college spent $270,636 on average, while the suburban colleges spent on average $42,850 per team and the urban colleges $73,844.  On a per athlete basis the rural college spent $10,027 for each male athlete and $17,272 for each female athlete. Per athlete spending in both the suburban and urban colleges was also higher for female athletes, mitigating to some extent their participation proportionality issues at all three types of colleges.  In suburban colleges spending per male athlete averaged $2,186 compared to female per athlete spending of $2,924; at urban colleges these numbers were $3,374 for male athletes and $4,904 for female athletes.  The sports offerings for men and women on suburban and urban campuses, was relatively similar, the notable exception being golf, which was among the top 5 for men, and volleyball which was among the top five for women.  Golf greens fees could contribute to the male female team and athlete differential, especially since volleyball can be offered in the same facility as basketball, another sport among the top five for women.   



Students who attend urban community campuses have fewer options when it comes to college sports offerings, but the most popular sports: basketball, baseball, soccer, and golf (for men) and basketball, soccer, softball, volleyball and track and field (for women) are available.  Urbanization, in the form of density and space limitations may limit the range of sports offerings, with football as the most notable example, because suburban campuses field many more types of sports teams.  Despite the smaller range of sports offered, urban colleges were more likely to offer athletic aid, a surprising finding because research has suggested that rural campuses use aid to attract students to their colleges and communities.  However, we found no literature suggesting urban campuses need to utilize recruiting tools, such as athletic scholarships for enrollment.  The amount of aid offered however, on a per athlete basis, was the smallest at urban colleges.  Rural colleges offered triple the athletic aid on a per student basis, and suburban colleges offered two and a half times as much aid, as did urban colleges.  Athlete spending overall was much greater at the rural college, than at the suburban and urban colleges. 


Participation in athletics at urban community colleges is lower than at both rural and suburban colleges among all students, and even after discounting for the larger proportion of part-time students on urban campuses. Student athletes are still in a much smaller proportion at urban colleges than on suburban campuses among the full-time student population. Additionally, despite recent gains in athletic opportunities for women, gender discrepancies still exist.


The opportunity to socially integrate via athletic participation is more limited at urban community colleges.  More research is needed on community college athletic programs to determine whether they contribute to social integration not just for the student-athlete but for the broader college community.  Further exploration of athletic aid is also warranted to determine why some urban colleges, whose enrollments are at all-time highs, have chosen to utilize limited financial resources for athletic scholarships and if athletic spending overall contributes to student success.



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