Perpetually underfunded community colleges should recruit middle-class and upper-middle-class students to build political capital and financial support, argues Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Community colleges receive less public support per student than four-year institutions, according to the Delta Cost Project. Over the last 10 years, community colleges are the only postsecondary sector that’s seen no increase in funding. “The students with the greatest needs and greatest challenges receive the least amount of public funding,” Kahlenberg writes.
The gross mismatch between the grand expectations for community colleges and the declining resources calls for creative thinking about how to boost funding for—and results from—two-year institutions.
Funding cuts may accelerate the white, middle-class flight from community colleges, he writes. To prevent that, colleges should strive for socioeconomic integration.
Conscious efforts to win back middle- and upper-middle class students could, by contrast, create a virtuous cycle of greater political capital and stronger financial support from state and local governments. In addition, a return of upper-middle class students, who, on average, are more likely to graduate, could foster positive peer influences on all students in community colleges. Middle-class students might be attracted by community-college honors programs, early college programs, or opportunities to gain a bachelor’s degree in a community-college setting.
A community-college sector that “educates students from all kinds of backgrounds will be stronger and benefit everyone who attends,” Kahlenberg argues.