State of Funding

The Obama administration has made a point of discussing the lack of funds for community colleges. While it is true that the recent economic downturn has placed these institutions in a tough situation, community colleges have been underfunded for years. While they have learned to cope with limited resources, additional cuts necessitated by crisis put them in a precarious position. While state budgets were traditionally the watering hole for two-year colleges, these sources are drying up and leaving them to turn to other options. These articles discuss the current state of finances for community colleges and the events which led them to their current crossroads.

  • Funding Issues in U.S. Community Colleges was a survey of state directors conducted in 2007 on the major sources of funding available to them. It examines the poor state of community college funding, even before the financial collapse the following year.
  • The survey from 2008 paints a more dire picture of two year colleges after the collapse. It features interactive statistical maps of the United States to display data at a glance.
  • The California Legislative Analyst Office reported in 2010 on the the proportion of community college funding made up of student fees. This study gives a good idea of how little impact student fees make in the funding of these institutions. s)
  • The recent Obama administration pledge to promote community colleges is explained in Obama Job Strategy. The article discusses the reduction of the grant from $12 to $2 billion and the need for community colleges to graduate skilled workers.

Poor-house Pressures

Underfunded colleges face more challenges than simply laying off teachers. Programs will be cut, disadvantaged groups are dislodged, school boards are left uncertain and a host of students seeking refuge from recession are turned away. Community colleges hold a crucial position as pathways for historically undereducated communities to improve their lot. When they feel the crunch so do the communities, industries and nations that depend upon them. Learn more about the effects that a two-year crisis from the resources below.

  • Weak Community College Budgets are not a simply local problem. Students who are already at a disadvantage are prone to exclusion with the expected increase in tuition to counter reduced funding.
  • Students in Seattle Central Community College’s film courses are faced with having their program cut. As school budgets get tighter even programs with impressive success rates are on the chopping block.
  • In times of budgetary crisis administrators often do not know how much funding they will actually receive. College funding uncertainty prevents schools from guaranteeing positions to their faculty and forces them to adopt a flexible budget for student services.
  • Community colleges dealing with a nationwide economic crisis see it as a “perfect storm” of increased enrollment and scarce resources. As jobs dwindle, more choose to go back to school, at a time when these same institutions are hard-pressed to cover their current student base.
  • Community colleges stand to be more impacted by state budget cuts than four year universities. While larger institutions might lose more, they also have varied funding sources that can compensate for the loss of government grant monies.
  • The stigma that community colleges are only for underachievers and unimportant to our success as a nation has seeped into the political realm. Slate’s Community College Organizer emphasizes the value that community colleges provide in educating for the needs of their communities.
  • Inside Higher Ed recognizes the recent New York community college cuts as relatively small compared to those at state universities. While this may seem counter intuitive, the ability of these small institutions to quickly move students into skilled jobs demonstrates their value for the future.

Why Community Colleges?

With the political administration and educators call for financial assistance, some are questioning the reality of the problem. Community colleges, after all, have unimpressive ratios of graduation and effective resource allocation. Cuts to community college programs and diversion of funds to more worthy programs often are suggested as better uses of government funds. Some suggest that educators at all levels work together to secure funding, in a similar way to universities gathering donors. The following posts question whether two-year colleges deserve the monies they demand.

  • Simply providing more grants to community colleges will not solve the funding problem. Pamela Burdman of the San Jose Mercury News argues that all educators, K-12, universities and two year colleges alike, need to work together in securing funding.
  • Community college funding boosts will not solve the global problems we face. $12 billion is just a band-aid for these institutions and would be more effectively used for other purposes.
  • Educational institutions often include bloated and unnecessary programs, which the California Legislative Analyst recommends cutting. Saving on these fringe courses allows more funds for state social initiatives that would address the needs of more individuals.
  • Community colleges have a horrible track record with student retention and job preparation. Increasing allotments for these institutions sends the wrong message, basing funding off of student performance is the only way to fairly allocate state monies.

Readjusting Finances

Aside from the recent commitment of $2 billion to community colleges around the country, educators and politicians have many ideas on how to reduce debt while recruiting students. Everything from political positioning to centralizing administration is on the table to support these institutions. Community colleges traditionally receive grants based on attendance, but this convention is quickly giving way to performance based models of funding. This type of system would encourage community colleges to graduate their students but raises its own ethical challenges. Look through these suggestions for an idea of where two-year colleges will turn to next for funding.

  • Recent federal grants to community colleges were included in the 2009 stimulus bill and helped stave off educational disaster. Administrators need to continue to lobby funds from the federal government to continue supporting students in qualifying for and attaining jobs.
  • With the reduction of Obama’s promised $12 billion and the stipulations attached to its use, community colleges have learned a hard lesson in politics. Federal allocations will secure the future for these institutions and getting involved in the legislative arena is the first step toward funding.
  • The Tarrant County College District instated a new strategy for funding community college by covering expenses as they come up. This plan decreases their reliance on debt-ridden bonds, reducing overall spending.
  • Like their four-year brethren, community colleges must seek private sources of funding for future success. While this type of campaign has the potential to turn around bleak budgets, the institutions have their work set out for them to demonstrate their need to private donors.
  • Two-year institutions could save a ton by coming together in statewide or regional consortia for increased purchasing power and bargaining leverage. Centralized administration would decrease overhead by lumping students together for academic programs and supplementary services.
  • Community colleges typically receive funding based on their student attendance. Many see this system as inadequate and are demanding student performance-based grants to compel the institutions to improve their educational offerings.
  • Governor Jerry Brown of California recently called for a change of how community colleges are funded. His proposal bases grants on how many students completed their programs rather than simply attendance.
  • The ranking system for community college projects in Washington state was recently reevaluated by Governor Chris Gregoire, with a preference to renovate buildings over constructing new ones. This effort encourages colleges to use existing resources and save money in the long term and favors initiatives in the design phase over planning.
  • There is no shortage of ideas for how to improve funding for community colleges, as evidenced on Tom Kucharvy’s Blog. He details the options including increased federal spending, new metrics for allocation and partnerships with local businesses.
  • Texas is considering a performance-based model for community college funding, which will partially determine these institutions’ 2012 budgets. Their system gives schools a point quota for funding based on completion rates and should be watched to see the effectiveness of graduation-driven grants.