Community colleges forced to downsize

Declining enrollment has forced many community colleges to downsize, reports Inside Higher Ed. Often that means canceling courses and laying off instructors.

After the 2008 financial crisis and he ensuing recession, enrollment surged as laid-off workers turned to community colleges to learn new skills. State funding and tuition dollars rose.

Enrollment numbers were almost 25 percent higher in 2010-11 than three years earlier, said David Baime, senior vice president for government relations and research for the American Association of Community Colleges.

But enrollment at two-year public institutions fell 3.6 percent between spring 2012 and spring 2013 and dropped another 2.7 percent between spring 2013 and spring 2014.

Enrollment has fallen by 5.9 percent among students 24 and older in the last year, though adults still make up 40 percent of community college attendees. Younger students’ enrollment fell by just 0.5 percent.

Staffing costs account for 80 percent or more of overall expenditures at many community colleges, said Baime.  “Very quickly you get into people when you’re involved in budget-cutting.”

Tuition revenues spiked at Patrick Henry Community College in Virginia between 2008 and 2011.  Then enrollment tapered off and revenues fell. “Slapdash budgeting left a $1.8 million deficit” for fiscal 2013, reports Inside Higher Ed.

After a year spent sorting out tangled accounting, Patrick Henry balanced its budget by making dramatic cuts . . .  The community college cut 16 full-time positions – including five teaching positions – and six part-time positions, saving slightly more than $1 million. The institution also chopped $754,000 from its non-personnel spending by canceling subscriptions to certain databases and reducing money spent on instructional supplies, among other areas.

At Pasadena City College, one of the most successful in California, cuts forced by declining enrollment have increased tension between the faculty and the college president, reports the Los Angeles Times. Since the peak in fall of 2010, enrollment is down by 13 percent. President Mark W. Rocha canceled a six-week winter semester to save money. Faculty members say they weren’t consulted as the college’s shared-governance model requires.

Enrollment dips as jobs rebound

As the economy rebounds, community college enrollment has gone from boom to bust. Enrollment is down at community colleges in Maryland and Virginia, reports the Washington Post.

“The truth of the matter is that during the recession, we were the economic recovery plan for a lot of Virginia families,” said Jeffrey Kraus, assistant vice chancellor for public relations for the Virginia Community College System.

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reported that community college enrollment nationwide fell 3 percent in fall 2013, similar to the previous year’s decline.

At Montgomery College, the largest community college in Maryland, enrollment fell by 5 percent. The college is back to the number of students enrolled in 2010.

In Virginia, Southwest Virginia Community College has lost 30 percent of its peak enrollment. However, Northern Virginia Community College — grown by nearly 6 percent.

NVCC President Robert G. Templin Jr. said the school “has made a concerted effort over the last eight or nine years” to reach out to students who might be the first in their families to go to college. Many are from minority, immigrant or low-income families in Fairfax, Prince William, Loudoun and Arlington counties. “We help them navigate the higher education landscape, which is pretty difficult if no one in your family has ever gone,” Templin said.

NVCC also is a major provider of transfer students to the state’s four-year institutions, including nearby George Mason University.

Many people don’t know that certificates or two-year degrees in certain fields can be a steppingstone to a well-paying career, said Jeffrey Kraus, spokesman for the Virginia Community College System.  “We need to go out and be talking to people who otherwise are not hearing the message of higher education,” he said. “Part of it is breaking through that ‘bachelor’s or bust’ mentality that a lot of folks have.”

Enrollment declines have forced Kansas community colleges to cut salaries, benefits and hiring, reports the Kansas City Star.

The economic fall and rise has made budgeting “so unpredictable,” said Johnson County Community College President Joe Sopcich in announcing $3.7 million in budget cuts. “Our projections calling for annual increases in enrollment and state aid (this year) were overly optimistic and unrealistic,” he said.

CC funding improves in most states

Community college funding is recovering, but two-year college systems remain under stress in many states, according a new survey, Halfway Out of Recession But A Long Way to Go. The Education Policy Center of the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa surveys community college directors annually.

Only directors in five states — Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana and Wyoming — reported mid-year budget cuts in 2012-13. In 2008-9, two-thirds of states were reporting such cuts.

Looking ahead, most state directors are predicting increases for this year for community colleges, with the average increase projected to be 4 percent. Only five states — Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, North Carolina and West Virginia — are projecting decreases in 2013-14.

The state directors report considerable worry about the ability of students to pay for college. Most states are projecting tuition increases, and a majority expect state student aid programs to either be cut or to increase at less than the rate of inflation for higher education.

Many directors expect rising enrollments as four-year institutions impose enrollment caps.


Non-elite colleges hit by enrollment drop

The “enrollment boom that swelled American colleges — and helped drive up their prices — is over, notes the New York Times.

College enrollment fell 2 percent in 2012-13, the first significant decline since the 1990s, but nearly all of that drop hit for-profit and community colleges; now, signs point to 2013-14 being the year when traditional four-year, nonprofit colleges begin a contraction that will last for several years. The college-age population is dropping after more than a decade of sharp growth, and many adults who opted out of a forbidding job market and went back to school during the recession have been drawn back to work by the economic recovery.

The most prestigious colleges aren’t affected, but less-elite private colleges, which tend to be dependent on tuition revenue, could have trouble staying afloat.

Lumina: 38.7% of adults are college grads

College attainment is increasing, slowly but steadily, reports the Lumina Foundation. As of 2011, 38.7 percent of working-age Americans had earned a two- or four-year college degree and another 5 percent of adults held a “postsecondary certificate with significant economic value.”

Young adults (ages 25-34) do slightly better: 40.1 percent have earned an associate or bachelor’s degree.

Lumina’s Goal 2025 — 60 percent of adults with a high-value certificate or degree — will require faster progress, the report states.

Higher education pays off, even in a tough economy, Lumina argues.

Between the beginning of the recession in December 2007 and its official end in January 2010, the economy lost 5.6 million jobs for Americans with a high school education or less. Jobs requiring an associate degree or some college declined by 1.75 million, while the number of jobs for Americans with a bachelor’s degree or above actually grew by 187,000.

. . . Since the end of the recession, jobs requiring an associate degree or some college have grown by 1.6 million and almost recovered to pre-recession levels. Jobs for bachelor’s degree holders actually have accelerated their growth — adding 2 million new jobs during the recovery.

Jobs for workers with only a high school diploma continue to decline.

Recent college graduates are far more likely to be employed than high school graduates: 88 percent of 23- and 24-year-old college graduates have jobs compared to 65 percent of less-educated workers the same age.  “The wage premium — the gap between what employers are willing to pay for graduates vs. those who don’t have a postsecondary credential — is actually growing, and has continued to grow throughout the recession and its aftermath.”

44% of grads are underemployed — and that’s OK

44% of Young College Grads Are Underemployed (and That’s Good News), writes Jordan Weissmann in The Atlantic.  In a weak economy, many new graduates have to take jobs that don’t require a college degree, argues Weissmann. It’s worse now “because the economy got fed through a wood chipper during the recession and we still haven’t picked up all the pieces,” not because a bachelor’s degree has lost value.

The unemployment rate among recent college graduates tends to move “in step with unemployment among all working age adults,” he writes. New graduates are having problems because everybody is.

College graduates during the 80s and early 90s were as likely to be overqualified for their jobs as young graduates today, according to New York Fed President William Dudley. Most graduates then eventually found professional jobs.

The obvious difference between higher education today and in 1990 is the cost of a degree, and the amount of debt students take on to finance it. So while failing to land a college-level job straight out of school might have been tolerable in the past, today it might mean severe financial hardship, especially if students aren’t savvy about how to handle their student debt (three words: Income. Based. Repayment).

There’s evidence that young people who graduate into a recession and start lower on the job ladder never recover completely.

I’d like to see a good survey asking whether collegebound students understand their likely future earnings and loan payments. Do they know the risks? If they did, second- and third-tier private colleges would have to slash tuition or go out of business.

Be deeply suspicious of promises that a bachelor’s degree will raise earnings significantly, warns Tim Donovan on Salon. If the “higher interest rate convinces even a few 18-year-olds not to take on huge debt for that Musical Theater degree, maybe it’s not so bad,” he writes.

Fewer 4-year grads enroll at 2-year colleges

Slightly fewer four-year graduates in 2010 enrolled in a community college within two years, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. The number dropped from 6.5 percent for 2009 graduates to 6.1 percent, perhaps because of improving economic conditions.

More than 14 percent of biology and biomedical graduates enrolled in community colleges, probably to study for a nursing degree.

“There was a lot of speculation during the Great Recession about humanities majors, who couldn’t find jobs with their bachelors’ degrees, flocking to community colleges to learn computer networking,” stated Dr. Doug Shapiro, Executive Director of the Research Center. “Our student-level data shows that the reality was a slight uptick in some fields, layered on top of longer-term trends. As we pull out of the recession, the numbers are starting to trend back down.”

One in four community college students has earned a postsecondary credential already, says Christopher Mullin, program director for policy analysis at the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC).

Most states will spend more on higher ed

Thirty states will spend more on high er education in the current fiscal year, but overall state spending is down 0.4 percent, according to an annual survey by Illinois State University and the State Higher Education Executive Officers. Since fiscal 2008, state higher education spending has declined nearly 11 percent.

New Mexico will spend a measly 0.1 percent percent more: energy-rich Wyoming will boost spending by nearly 14 percent. But Florida will cut higher ed spending by 8 percent.

In California, where state money for colleges fell nearly 6 percent from the year before, Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, has proposed increasing state funds for the public-college systems by 4 percent to 6 percent in the coming fiscal year. As in many other states, that proposal came with the expectation that state colleges will keep tuition flat and increase their efficiency in producing graduates.

During the past five years, more than a dozen states have cut college funding by more than 20 percent. Arizona (37 percent) and New Hampshire (36 percent) have cut the most.

“Barring a further downturn in the economy, the relatively small overall change … suggests that higher education may be at the beginning stages of a climb out of the fiscal trough caused by the last recession,” says a news release accompanying the survey data.

However, a new report from Moody’s Investors Services predicts tough times for higher education with stagnant state funding, student resistance to tuition increases and a declining number of high school graduates.

Pew: College grads suffer less in recession

Recent four-year college graduates are struggling in the job market, but it’s a lot worse for job seekers with only a high school diploma or associate degree, concludes a Pew report.

Before the recession, just over half of young adults with a high school degree (HS) were employed, compared to almost two-thirds of those with an associate degree (AA) and nearly three-fourths of those with a bachelor’s degree (BA).

Job losses during the recession made existing employment gaps even worse. The employment declines for those with HS and AA degrees were 16 and 11 percent, respectively, compared with 7 percent for those with a BA degree.

Pew did not find “a sharp increase” in four-year graduates taking low-skill or low-wage jobs — or going to graduate school.

Older, remedial students strain Florida colleges

Older, returning students who require remediation are straining Florida’s community colleges, reports the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting. From 2004 to 2011, Florida’s remedial education costs rose from $118 million to $168 million. The vast majority of “developmental” students have been out of school for at least a year or two: In the 2010-11 school year, 85 percent of students taking remedial classes were age 20 or older.

The recession accelerated the trend.

Laid-off workers and those . . . who want to train for new lines of work or bolster their résumés, have been flooding onto college campuses. It isn’t just the weak job market that has been encouraging them to do this. The federal government is providing record amounts of financial aid.

Most have rusty academic skills, especially in math. Four of every five first-year, full-time students over 20 had to take remedial math courses. For those 35 and older, the rate increased to 90 percent.

Hunter R. Boylan, director of the National Center for Developmental Education, says older students’ need for remedial math is natural. “You read every day, but when was the last time someone said, ‘Excuse me, Can you help me solve a polynomial equation?’ ” Boylan said. “It’s a skill that atrophies quickly and because it is not used regularly, it goes away.”

President Obama has promoted easier access to education for disadvantaged students and expanded Pell Grants by more than $15 billion. In Florida, the number of students receiving federal financial aid and taking remedial classes more than doubled from 2007 to 2011.

Older students taking remedial courses said the availability of financial aid was a determining factor in deciding to go to college.

José Ramos is one of them. Ramos is a phlebotomist — that’s the person who takes blood samples for health tests. A Pell Grant enabled Ramos, 46, to pursue a nursing degree at St. Petersburg College. “Being the only provider in a household and for what I make, you can’t survive and go to school,” said Ramos, a father of four. “Normally, right now, I wouldn’t be in school. I’d be working two jobs supporting my family and not able to see my son grow up like I did my daughter.”

. . . Financial aid allowed Ramos to reduce his hours at work and concentrate on his studies. But his education has also taken longer than he anticipated due to his need for remedial math. Ramos didn’t score high enough in math on the entrance exam to take college-level algebra.

Patricia Smith, who oversees the campus learning lab, says many older students don’t make it through the remedial sequence. A 2007 state analysis estimated half of remedial students drop out before qualifying for college-level classes. The rate is higher for older students, instructors say. In some cases, laid-off workers find new jobs. In others, students are pulled away from college by family problems, part-time jobs and, for veterans, post-traumatic stress disorder.

Older students who stick with it are “more focused,” says Smith. “They will help bring up the younger students in the class and actually act as nurturers and be great role models for younger students.”