IHSA and the Community College

Last week, one of The Huffington Post college bloggers published an editorial on student loan debt.  In it, Bob Hildreth compared car shopping to the college search, wondering, “Why are we willing to overlook the price of college, but watch our pennies when we buy a car?”  The answer, he ultimately concluded, was prestige.  Families and students seek the prestige of attending a “name brand” college and are willing to go into steep debt in order to make that dream a reality.  A better alternative to this plan, Hildreth suggests, is for cash-strapped students to consider spending their first two years of undergraduate education at a community college, then complete their Bachelors degree at their local state university to avoid falling under a mountain of substantial debt.

Star show jumper Beezie Madden rode on the IHSA team at her community college.  (photo courtesy of John Madden Sales)
Star show jumper Beezie Madden rode on the IHSA team at her community college. (photo courtesy of John Madden Sales)

For many students, this type of economical thinking makes a great deal of sense and I hope they will take Mr. Hildreth’s words to heart.  It can be the right move for many and will keep them fiscally intact as they enter the job market after graduation.  But for students who desire a place on a college equestrian team as a part of their undergraduate experience, the fear is not so much the idea of going into debt for school as much as facing the possibility of losing two years of the chance to participate in IHSA competition.  After all, the idea of a community college fielding its very own IHSA team seems ludicrous – right?  Impossible to fathom, in fact.

Or is it?

Think about this:  Beezie Madden (yes, that Beezie Madden – Olympic medalist in show jumping and partner to great horses like Authentic, Judgement, and most recently Coral Reef Via Volo) rode on her college’s IHSA team.  That college was Southern Seminary Junior College, where Beezie completed a two-year Associates degree in liberal arts.  That’s right, folks – Beezie got a two-year degree and the the opportunity to ride in the IHSA while she did it.  In the current school year, no less than 15 community colleges are home to their very own IHSA teams right now.

Moreover, if you are a cash-strapped equestrian – or perhaps you don’t have immediate financial concerns, but instead want an extra year or two to build study skills or to complete your general education credits in a smaller environment close to home – there can be many advantages to a community college.  In fact, if your local community college doesn’t have an equestrian club of any kind but is willing to let you come in and assemble a competitive IHSA team (the process isn’t difficult), you could even find yourself with a great resume-building opportunity on your hands!

The bottom line is, don’t count out the option of attending a community college just as an effort to pursue an intercollegiate riding career.  Instead, consider the following four advantages of becoming an IHSA equestrian for a community college:

  • Cost savings.  As Hildreth pointed out in his editorial, the amount of money that a student can save (or perhaps more aptly, the amount of money that he or she won’t have to spend) can be substantial when choosing to attend a community college.  Students can often live at home, which prevents fees for room and board, and those who own horses aren’t faced with the prospect of moving horses to new barns across the country (or even across the state), the cost for which adds up significantly when transportation, potentially increased boarding fees, and all other factors are put into the equation.  (Some students may still choose to sell their horses after high school, but attending community college for two years can also help to lessen the need to make that decision immediately after high school.)
  • The opportunity to train with a familiar coach.  As many community college students select the school within their own, well, community, they are normally granted the opportunity to continue to ride and train at their own home barns.  In addition, the increased flexibility that a college course schedule offers to students may also present increased opportunities with these trainers – perhaps the chance to be a working student or to take a part-time job at the barn to help continue to off-set riding or board costs (if you aren’t already doing so).  What’s more, if you’re the student at your community college who takes on the task of founding the school’s first IHSA team, you might be able to convince your trainer to take on the coaching duties – which will open the doors to new students for him or her and can help you introduce new friends to the person who has so deeply influenced your riding.
  • IHSA experience when you go on to a four-year school.  Riders in the IHSA compete in a draw format aboard unfamiliar horses.  To riders fresh out of high school who may not have had the opportunity previously to sit on a lot of different mounts, this idea can be quite daunting at first – in particular if you set your sights on becoming a member of a well-known and highly competitive IHSA team.  But if you are able to seize the opportunity to get your feet wet while competing for your community college (which may turn out to field a very strong team when all is said and done), you’ll be far less intimidated when you make the transition to the four-year school and their team.  What’s more, you’ll already be sorted into an existing IHSA division – which makes the paperwork that much easier for you and your new teammates when you arrive at your four-year school.
  • Leadership experience for your next college application – and your resume!  If your local community college lacks an IHSA equestrian team and you undertake the task of organizing the first one, you’ll have a great resume builder to include not only in your transfer applications, but also later on when you begin to interview for jobs.  Organization skills, ability to delegate responsibility, leadership attributes, and the fortitude to follow through on a project that is important to you are all skills that colleges and managers alike seek when they’re recruiting students and employees – and what better way to perfect your talents than with doing something that you’re already passionate about?

Now, is a community college education the right path for every student to take?  Of course not.  But I hope that it’s a path that some students feel comfortable exploring as a potential chance for them to get a great education at a great price – and one that equestrian students won’t automatically discard for fear that their riding careers will suffer.

(Want help determining what path is right for you?  Contact me.)


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