Monday, April 05, 2010

Politicians brag on community colleges, but don't want to pay for them

Community colleges have recently experienced an uptick in political attention as lawmakers champion them to boost graduation rates and help the U.S. emerge from the recession. However, community-college leaders remain worried that they won't receive financial backing commensurate with the new attention. "It's a difficult, challenging time for us," George Boggs, president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges, told Eric Gorski of The Associated Press. "But in the longer term view, we've never seen the image of community colleges as high as it is right now. Overall, I'm optimistic for the future." The nation's 1,200 community, technical and junior colleges enroll more than 6 million students, just under half the country's college population, Gorski reports.

"Sinking tax revenues at state and local levels have forced public colleges to cut courses or schedule them around the clock, slash summer sessions, eliminate academic programs and even restrict enrollment," Gorski writes. A survey of 128 community college systems released last week showed a slight improvement from last year's data, with 52 percent reporting reductions in their operating budgets this year. The number with cuts exceeding 10 percent more than doubled. "You put all these factors together, it's sort of a perfect storm," Michael Kirst, professor emeritus of education and business administration at Stanford University, told Gorski. "One would predict our graduation rates will decline, not increase, from the community colleges. We'll move backwards."

An estimated 35 percent of community college entrants earn a certificate or associate's degree within six years, Gorski reports. The House version of student-loan reform passed last fall would have brought $10 billion to community colleges for "job training, building projects and initiatives to get more students out the door with degrees or certificates," Gorski writes, but the version signed last week provides just $2 billion to community colleges for job training only. "A significant portion of higher education is hunkered down, trying to wait out the storm," said Robert Templin, president of Northern Virginia Community College, where President Obama held his student loan bill-signing ceremony. "We've taken the approach that while things will get better, they will never get back to the way they were. We're going to have to find new ways to do our work." (Read more)

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