Blog: The Educated Reporter

Report: Community Colleges Enroll More Students, Receive Less Funding than Four-Year Schools

Miami-Dade Community College in 2012

Source: FLickr/Ines Hegedus-Garcia Link:

State support for community colleges is shrinking even as enrollment at the institutions is steadily climbing, according to a new report.

Nearly half of the nation’s students are attending these low-cost options for a college degree, and in fact, community college enrollment has expanded by a fifth since 2007.

But in that same time, states have scaled back their funding for community colleges, spreading thin the resources available to help the mostly first-generation and low-income students receiving a postsecondary education studying at these two-year schools, according to a new report by the left-leaning Center for American Progress.  

While support for institutions of higher learning declined since the start of the Great Recession, community colleges saw larger state cuts on a per-pupil basis than did four-year schools in 31 of 45 states the center reviewed. Nationally, enrollment grew almost twice as fast at community colleges than at four-year schools, which saw increases of 11 percent, while community colleges grew by 20 percent since the start of the Great Recession.

The cuts to community colleges, and some minority-serving four-year schools, have an outsize effect on minority students, too, the report’s authors argued. They spotlighted several states where the community colleges lost taxpayer support at rates greater than four-year institutions. 

Source: Center for American Progress

The report’s authors note that while funding levels for community colleges and four-year colleges in South Carolina are similar, several largely black-serving institutions experienced much larger cuts than other state schools. The state’s flagship public school, University of South Carolina, counts a fifth of its student body as students of color. Its funding declined 28 percent between fiscal years 2008 and 2012. South Carolina State University, with 94 percent of its student body identified as black, experienced cuts closer to 44 percent.

The slowdown in funding for institutions of higher learning came even as more adults pursued a college education to sidestep the weak job market. The report’s authors argue public higher education funding is hamstrung by lackluster backstops that would funnel dollars into the system in times of economic duress.

To that end, the report’s authors proposed several reforms, including federal matching grants if states agree to use those funds to support low-income students heading to college and hold colleges to higher graduation rates.

AT EWA’s 2014 Higher Education Seminar in Dallas, several experts shared findings from their research on how to improve completion rates and boost funding streams in the higher education space.

One major hurdle for students is remediation, which prompts millions of students to drop out out of school.

From my summary of the panel:

These developmental classes don’t grant students academic credit but still cost money – a reality many scholars point to as a significant barrier to students’ ability to afford to get to the finish line. Remediation is most prevalent at community colleges, where more than two-thirds of the students are estimated to take such a course. 

And that’s also where America’s college completion rate suffers the most. Roughly half the nation’s postsecondary students are enrolled at community colleges; meanwhile, studies show 90 percent of students needing even one remedial course fail to complete a community college degree program after three years.

 Some of the center’s reforms mirror efforts underway by the Obama administration to rate colleges on several metrics. A timeline and deep dive into the administration’s thinking is available here.

The inimitable Libby Nelson of Vox goes even deeper here with a look at how the U.S. tried to rate colleges a century ago.

And Jamaal Abdul-Alim explores the mentoring and brief psychological interventions colleges can apply to students. Recent studies point to considerable academic gains when these interventions are done right, he reports.

The world of psychological intervention as an affordable tool to improve student learning is discussed in greater deal here (see parts one, two and three).


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