Arise, collegians! Demand equitable funding!

All 11 million community college students and 1,200 community college presidents, should support the revolution started by Bridging the Higher Education Divide, a report by the Century Foundation’s Task Force on Preventing Community Colleges from Becoming Separate and Unequal, writes Wick Sloane on Inside Higher Ed.

The report offers “a policy path to righting the disgraceful inequities of community college funding” and a civil rights litigation strategy, Sloane writes. What’s needed are leaders.

. . . grab the Century data!  Protest!  Petition the government for a redress of grievances!  March on Washington!

As with LBJ during the Civil Rights Movement, President Obama knows what needs to be done for justice and equity for the short-end-of-the-straw-holding 44 percent of students in college today: community college students. Unlike LBJ, backed by Martin Luther King and thousands of protesters, President Obama has had not a shred of grown-up political pressure from community colleges to help community colleges.

Bridging the Higher Education Divide lays out the “evidence that public higher education funding, state and federal, shortchanges the poorest students with the highest need, writes Sloane.

* “Between 1999 and 2009, community college funding increased just one dollar per student, while per student funding at private research universities jumped almost $14,000.”
* While wealthy students outnumber poor students at the most selective four-year colleges by 14:1, community colleges educate twice as many low-income students as high-income students.”
* The federal tax and research-overhead subsidies at Princeton . . . amount to about $54,000 per student. (To which I add that the most federal aid a community college student can hope for is a full Pell Grant, about $5,500.)
* The approximate state appropriation for a public community college student is $4,209, versus $12,611 for a public bachelor’s degree student.

The most controversial policy proposal is to litigate, emulating the NAACP’s strategy in Brown v. Board of Education. “As Brown v. Board of Education helped galvanize our nation to address deep and enduring inequalities that had long been taken for granted, so today it is time to address – head on – abiding racial and economic inequalities in our system of American higher education.”

California may add classes, raise fees

California community colleges could add courses in short summer and winter sessions — if students pay more, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. A bill that passed the Assembly this week would let colleges charge non-resident rates — $200 per unit — for new classes instead of the usual fee of $46 per unit.

Students who pay more for a high-demand class would free up spaces for other students during the regular semester, Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, said. ”We must recognize the reality that the existing system is not meeting students’ needs,” he said.

The Faculty Association of California Community Colleges and several community college districts opposed the bill, saying it’s unfair to low-income students.

“If you fear a two-tiered system, I’ve got to wake you up: It’s already here,” Williams said. “There’s one tier that can get in and one tier that is locked out.”

After years of cutbacks, two-thirds of community colleges are offering more courses this summer, according to the chancellor’s office. Last summer, enrollment and course offerings hit the lowest level in 15 years, but the passage of a state sales tax increase provided an extra $210 million to community colleges.

In recent years, the state’s community colleges have been hit by $1.5 billion in funding cuts and turned away 600,000 students, according to a report published in March.

The shortage of community college seats “could keep 2.5 million Californians out of the system over the next 10 years,” reports KPBS. Latinos, who are the most likely to attend community colleges, will be hit hard, said Deborah Santiago, who heads research for Excelencia in Education. “Community colleges are, from a sticker price perspective, more affordable and, because they are in the communities where these students live, therefore accessible,” she said.

California chancellor opposes differential fees

Some California community colleges want to charge higher fees for high-demand courses. Newly appointed Community College Chancellor Brice Harris opposes differential fees, reports Paul Fain on Inside Higher Ed.

In an open letter to leaders of the system’s 112 colleges, Harris last month made clear that he is opposed to attempts at charging “differential tuition.” That includes the controversial two-tiered pricing structure that Santa Monica College proposed last year or the online bachelor’s track Coastline Community College has been developing with three public universities in other states.

Harris supports tuition increases, but opposes charging some students more than others for the same courses.

“I strongly believe that charging different students different fees depending on demand, ability to pay or program of interest would ultimately be devastating to open access and has the potential to undermine a system that has been the gateway to a better life for all Californians regardless of their background.”

Many California community colleges are putting students on wait lists for high-demand entry-level courses.  ”A recent report found that budget cuts, and resulting faculty layoffs and hiring freezes, have forced the system to turn away 600,000 students in recent years,” notes Inside Higher Ed. 

Santa Monica’s proposal for two-tiered fees was abandoned in the face of  protests. 

Coastline Community College’s proposed online partnership with four-year institutions was rejected by the chancellor’s office earlier this year.

CCs can bridge the skills gap

Community colleges are “ideally positioned to close the skills gap and train out-of-work Americans for “middle-skill jobs,” write Anthony Carnevale and Nicole Smith of Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) in GOOD. Sixty percent of jobs today require some postsecondary education or training, and the percentage will continue to rise, they predict.

With the help of community colleges, 1.5 million unemployed Americans could qualify for good jobs that require more than high school training but less than a bachelor’s degree, the researchers estimate. Roughly 21 percent of all jobs require “middle: skills: 29 million pay at least $35,000 a year and nearly 10 million pay more than $50,000. A “significant number actually pay more than entry-level jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree.”

However, community colleges are under pressure to raise graduation rates and ensure that graduates find jobs in their field.

With completion rates as the new criterion of success, community colleges run the risk of no longer being open access—a safe haven for students looking to complete remedial work, basic education or professional training that may or may not lead to a piece of paper certifying some kind of “completion” of a course of study.

Carnevale and Smith recommend four ways to help community colleges close the skills gap while balancing the goals of open access and high completion rates:

Community colleges should be allowed to have lower graduation rates than current metrics suggest—especially if they are tasked with having open access and non-traditional students.

. . . Funding levels should be attached to programs, not students, and should reflect the varying needs of those programs. For example, nursing programs that require access to very expensive technical equipment should be funded at a higher level than, say, courses in the liberal arts.

Strengthening the high school-to-college pipeline could reduce the number of students in community colleges who need remedial help, and ultimately lead to better completion rates for everyone.

Both community colleges and four-year institutions should provide more concrete data about the money value of college courses, programs and majors. The expected payoff, long-term costs and value of a college major should be information that all colleges make available to every potential and current student.

Community colleges will be of increasing importance in helping Americans prepare for the workforce and retrain to meet new workforce demands, Carnevale and Smith conclude.

Aspen names 120 top community colleges

The Aspen Institute has named 120 community colleges in 31 states that are in the running for the 2013 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. The finalists were evaluated  on the basis of student persistence, completion and transfer rates, consistent improvement in outcomes over time and equity in outcomes for students of all racial/ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Valencia College in Florida won the 2012 prize.

Educating for equity

Has higher education become an engine of inequality? asks the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Education, long praised as the great equalizer, no longer seems to be performing as advertised. A study by Stanford University shows that the gap in standardized-test scores between low-income and high-income students has widened about 40 percent since the 1960s—now double that between black and white students. A study from the University of Michigan found that the disparity in college-completion rates between rich and poor students has grown by about 50 percent since the 1980s.

Community colleges are part of the problem and essential to the solution, writes Thomas Bailey, who directs the Community College Research Center on Teachers’ College, Columbia.

Regardless of previous academic achievement, low-income students are much more likely than higher-income students to attend community colleges than four-year institutions. And students who start in community colleges do not, on average, progress as far as those starting in four-year institutions; they are certainly less likely to complete a B.A.

Better counseling and financial-aid programs might improve equity, but not by much, writes Bailey. He also has little faith that encouraging all students to start in a four-year institution is practical. Selective colleges and universities “have used the growing demand for higher education to become even more selective rather than to expand enrollment.”

The availability of low-cost, local, open-access community colleges is therefore crucial. As tuition at four-year institutions rises, and college degrees become a prerequisite for jobs paying a living wage, community colleges fill an ever more crucial role in our economy. Accordingly, their enrollments have steadily grown.

To increase completion rates without restricting access, community college reforms must include “the entire student experience at college, including opportunities to transfer to four-year colleges,” not just remediation or course selection.

Defining community colleges down

In lauding community colleges’ job training mission, New York Times columnist Joe Nocera is Defining Community Colleges Down, writes Richard Kahlenberg, who’s launched a a Century Foundation Task Force on Preventing Community Colleges from Becoming Separate and Unequal.

Community colleges have two big roles—to provide skills, certificates, and AA degrees that will improve employment prospects for students, and to provide a gateway for low-income and working-class students who wish to transfer and ultimately receive a bachelor’s degree. The downgrading of community colleges to a single function—skills training—would constitute a betrayal for the many working-class students who aspire to more.

Among first-time, full-time community college students, 81.4 percent plan to transfer to earn at least a bachelor’s degree, according to federal data. Yet only 11.6 percent do so within six years. That’s “a national tragedy,” writes Kahlenberg. Rather than encouraging students to pursue certificates and associate degrees, community colleges should “improve and strengthen transfer paths.”

For many talented and diligent low-income students who must work to make ends meet, community college is a more affordable and flexible option than beginning at a four-year institution, even though they understandably prefer to ultimately earn a B.A. rather than a certificate or an AA degree. U.S. Census data show that the mean earnings of workers age 18 and over with a bachelor’s degree has increased relative to that of workers with some college/associate’s degree, from 47 percent more in 1975 to 68 percent more in 2010.

The New York Times sees community colleges as places where low-income students will settle for “middle skills,” Kahlenberg writes. “Community colleges should aim higher.”


Honesty is the first step

Reclaiming the American Dream, the new American Association of Community Colleges‘ report, is brutally honest about community colleges’ shortcomings, writes Richard Kahlenberg in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

“What we find today are student success rates that are unacceptably low, employment preparation that is inadequately connected to job market needs, and disconnects in transitions between high schools, community colleges, and baccalaureate institutions.”  The report concedes that “developmental education as traditionally practiced is dysfunctional, that barriers to transfer inhibit student progress, that degree and certificate completion rates are too low, and that attainment gaps across groups of students are unacceptably wide.”  These problems may seem obvious to the casual observer, but for a commission of the AACC, a group which describes itself as “the primary advocacy organization for the nation’s community colleges,” to openly admit such failures is remarkable.

Reclaiming the Dream recommends requiring orientation, first-semester counseling to get students into a structured program of study and embedding basic skills instruction into credit-bearing courses. It also calls on four-year institutions to agree on transfer courses, so students won’t lose credits as they move toward a bachelor’s degree.

The AACC report “plants the seed” for The Century Foundation’s Task Force on Preventing Community Colleges from Becoming Separate and Unequal, writes Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the foundation. The task force will pose critical questions:

Can we expect to provide equal educational opportunity when higher education is so deeply stratified – with the most selective four-year colleges educating 14 times as many rich kids as poor kids, while community colleges have almost twice as many poor students as wealthy ones?

Why does our system of public funding of higher education provide the fewest resources to the student most in need?

. . . can we call a system where 65 percent of students who start at a community college fail to earn a degree or credential after six years either efficient or equitable?

Community colleges can solve some of their own problems without more dollars, the report said. Funding should be structured to provide “incentives for promoting student success.”

Equal access, but less success

More students are starting — and completing — college, according to Replenishing Opportunity in America, an Education Trust report on its Access to Success Initiative. “Improvements are driven largely by African-American, Latino, American-Indian and low-income students.”

At community colleges, low-income and minority students are well represented.  At four-year institutions, the access gap for low-income freshmen has been cut in half, but there’s been little progress for black and Hispanic students.

When it comes to success, the report is not as positive.

Success rates at two-year colleges remain low, and gaps persist. Four-year institutions have made gains, improving graduation rates for all students. But success among low-income students and students of color has not yet moved fast enough to begin closing the completion gaps.

The gap in college attainment rates between white students and students of color is bigger now than it was in the 1970s, Ed Trust warns.

Community colleges face Catch-22

Community colleges, which are “given fewer resources to educate students with the greatest needs,” face a Catch-22, writes Richard Kahlenberg of the Century Foundation in The 2-Tier-Tuition Controversy in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

(Colleges can) raise prices, which creates new inequities, or don’t raise prices and perpetuate huge waiting lists for courses. In practical terms, as Nate Johnson of Postsecondary Analytics notes, when students eager for education are shut out of community-college courses, they tend to enroll in for-profit colleges, where they pay far more per credit than the proposed expensive tier at Santa Monica. Many students exit these for-profit institutions with few marketable skills.

“Charging different amounts for the same general-education courses at a community college would have set a bad precedent,” Kahlenberg writes. But it’s just the tip of a giant iceberg of  inequalities in higher education.