Resources & Publications

How States Can Get What They Pay for from Community Colleges

Nov 04, 2010

By Elizabeth Kenefick

Postsecondary education is increasingly important for low-income adults and youth, and community colleges are central for equipping tomorrow's workforce with needed skills and knowledge. But community colleges nationwide have struggled to meet the growing demand.  

Today, CLASP's Center for Postsecondary and Economic Success released a new brief on effectively using funding streams to help community colleges serve low-income students. Getting What We Pay For: State Community College Funding Strategies the Benefit Low-Income, Lower-Skilled Students provides an overview of how states fund community colleges and strategies policymakers can use to realign community college financing - including tuition policies - to improve postsecondary access and success for lower-skilled and low-income students. These policies can help strengthen state economies.

The difficult situation many community colleges find themselves in has been described as a "perfect storm." Vickie Choitz, CLASP senior policy analyst and author of Getting What We Pay For, writes:

In the last few years, record enrollments have resulted in classes filling up faster, colleges being forced to close courses sooner, and institutions establishing enrollment caps. Many community colleges have been able to escape funding cuts and actually receive small increases.  These increases, however, have not kept up with the overall jump in enrollment and have resulted in net funding decreases at most institutions.

Community colleges in Texas and California have experienced budget cuts (five and eight percent respectively), and are expecting more to come in the near future. These are just some of the many examples.  A newly updated report by the Education Policy Center at the University of Alabama corroborates the findings, including that many states report tuition increases well above 10 percent. Additionally, the funding situation for education is already dire in some states, with some community colleges owed unpaid funds (warrants) from state government or borrowing to meet payrolls in four states.

Janice N. Friedel, co-author of the Education Policy Center's report, describes the situation in an article by saying "community colleges are undergoing a financial ‘assault' that threatens their status as open-access institutions."

Be it a financial assault or a perfect storm, the message is clear: community colleges are facing huge hurdles in what Dr. Jill Biden has described as their mission of "giving real opportunity to students who otherwise wouldn't have hope to families who thought the American dream was slipping away...equipping Americans with the skills and expertise that are relevant to the emerging jobs of the future... [and] opening doors for the middle class at a time when the middle class has seen so many doors close to them."

Community colleges cannot alone be responsible for helping many achieve the American Dream. Through state funding of community colleges, state governments can play an essential role in helping low-income students succeed.

Download the pdf of the report or read online with visualizations of the data.


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