For Becca Wiersema, being a student athlete is “like a full-time job.”
“We were here about three weeks before everybody else doing two practices a day and lifting. Then we had some scrimmages and tournaments at the beginning of the season,” she explained. “When you really get into it, it’s like two games a week.”
Wiersema wouldn’t have it any other way. As a high school student in Loveland, Colorado, she played three sports while taking college-level courses in English and math. That ambition led her to Northeastern Junior College, where she’s in her second semester playing volleyball for the college.
“I went on my visit, and I honestly just loved it here,” she said. “I thought it was really cool that you could like live on campus at a community college—I really didn’t know that was a thing.”
Wiersema is one of 10,000 students who attend a rural community college in Colorado. There are seven rural-serving institutions in the Community College System (CCCS) with 16 locations in every corner of the state.
As Wiersema has found, these college not only provide high-quality programs—they also provide the full college experience. Five have on-campus living options that collectively house around 1,000 students each year. And hundreds of athletes play for more than 50 teams systemwide in sports as diverse as rodeo and livestock judging, among traditional ones like soccer and basketball.
Despite her busy schedule, Wiersema says she’s been able to balance school and sports thanks to support of coaches and instructors. She’s currently studying business and brought in about 30 credits through the state’s Concurrent Enrollment program.
She’s also enjoyed the community of a smaller campus, where it’s easy to connect with peers through Mario Kart tournaments and other dorm activities.
“Everybody knows everybody,” she said. “I’m a big people person, so I’ve felt really welcomed here.”
Abrianah Gonzales, a freshman from Denver, Colorado, is also thriving at a rural college. She was initially attracted to Colorado Northwestern Community College for its strong dental hygiene program and was surprised how quickly she took to small town living.
“I love that we have a campus life here and we get that college experience,” said Gonzales, who attends the college’s Rangely campus. “Classes aren’t as large compared to other colleges or universities. Being in a small town has just made my life better.”
Like Wiersema, Gonzales lives on campus and has enjoyed the tight-knit community. Outside of class, she likes to study in her dorm’s computer lab or hang out in the campus recreation room, where students often play board games or shoot pool. On weekends, she and her friends go off-roading in the surrounding mountains and relax at the town lake.
Gonzales also took a work study job in the college’s marketing department, where she designs posters and graphics and photographs sporting events. The position has helped her feel even more bonded to CNCC.
“Sometimes I’ll tell my friends, ‘You saw that on Insta? I made that!’” she said. “It just makes feel so accomplished to see something I made shared with the community.”
I love that we have a campus life here and we get that college experience.
With their college journeys well underway, both Wiersema and Gonzales encourage more students to consider rural institutions for their unique opportunities.
“It will take a couple weeks to feel things out and make new friends,” Gonzales advised. “Once you get that in that groove, you’ll feel at home.”
“As long as you try to put yourself out there and meet people—go to all the sporting events and go to the dorm events—you’re going to have a fun time,” she said.