In 2000, 38 percent of Americans age 25 to 34 had a degree from a community college or a four-year institution, putting the nation in fourth place among its peers in the OECD. By 2011, the graduation rate had inched up to 43 percent, but the nation’s ranking had slipped to 11th place.
More than 70 percent of Americans enroll at a four-year college — the seventh-highest rate among 23 nations tracked by the OECD. But less than two-thirds earn a degree. “Including community colleges, the graduation rate drops to 53 percent,” reports the New York Times. “Only Hungary does worse.”
A bachelor’s degree is worth $365,000 for the average American man and $185,000 for a woman over a lifetime, the report estimates. Four-year graduates earn 84 percent more than high school graduates, on average. A graduate with an associate degree makes 16 percent more.
While Europe is turning out many college graduates, unemployment and underemployment are high for young people. In Spain, a part-time job at Starbucks is considering a coup.
The U.S. “is one of the world’s biggest spenders when it comes to education,” but is not keeping up with other nations, according to the OECD. “In the 1960s and 70s, the U.S. was way ahead of any other country… but other countries have done a lot better at getting their resources where they will make the most difference,” said Andreas Schleicher, an education policy adviser to the OECD.
The United States spent an average of $15,171 per student in 2010, factoring in college and job training, the highest in the world. (That includes $11,000 per elementary student and more than $12,000 for each high school student.) Switzerland spent $14,922 per student, while Mexico averaged only $2,993. The average OECD nation spent $9,313.
While elite and semi-elite college costs have soared, community colleges haven’t raised spending in the last 10 years, writes Matthew Yglesias, reprinting a chart from the Century Foundation’s new report on the higher education divide. “These institutions started off spending less to begin with” while serving students with the greatest needs.
Community colleges “took the greatest hit” in 2010 as higher education struggled to recover from recession, concludes the Delta Cost Project in College Spending in a Turbulent Decade.
All colleges and universities are trying to serve more students with less money, the report found. “As funding failed to keep pace with historic increases in enrollment, educational spending per student plummeted to its lowest level in a decade.”
Community colleges suffered the greatest financial hardships.
Historic enrollment increases, combined with sharp losses in per-student revenues from state appropriations and meager increases in net tuition revenue, resulted in significant cuts to academic spending per full-time equivalent (FTE) student. Community colleges concluded the decade spending less per student than they had ten years earlier.
State universities were able to preserve spending on instruction and student services, while private four-year institutions implemented widespread cuts, the report found. Although students covered a larger portion of educational costs, sharp tuition increases were not enough to offset lost revenues.
Funding for community colleges continued to fall further behind other public institutions. . . They were the only public institutions at which average total operating revenues per FTE student declined in 2010 and also were lower than a decade earlier. Community colleges suffered the deepest cuts in state and local appropriations per student in 2010, with funding reduced by approximately $1,000 per student; however, they also limited the new money coming from net tuition revenue more than did other types of public institutions.
Efforts to keep community colleges accessible and affordable while accommodating more than 40 percent of new higher education students—often the most economically or academically disadvantaged—have significantly eroded the resources they have to devote to each student.
The growth in less costly, shorter-term certificate programs cut the cost of completion in community colleges from 2000 to 2010.
Starved of funding and pushed to boost graduation rates, community colleges are shutting out the neediest students, charges Closing the Door, Increasing the Gap: Who’s Not Going to (Community) College, a report by Gary Rhoades, a University of Arizona education professor, for the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education.
Nationwide, community college enrollment has hit a plateau or is declining, the report finds. Underfunded California community colleges, which are turning students away, are a bellwether for the nation. A plan to “reboot” the system gives enrollment priority to first-time, full-time, degree-seeking students with an academic plan; others will go on wait lists or just go away.
In a complicated “cascade effect,” higher tuition and enrollment limitations at four-year institutions have pushed middle-class and upper middle-class students toward community colleges. This, in turn, increases competition for seats in community college classrooms at a time when funding for community colleges is being slashed and fees are increasing. As community colleges draw more affluent students, opportunity is being rationed and lower-income students (many of whom are students of color) are being denied access to higher education.
Community colleges are narrowing their focus, stressing “narrow job training” rather than “a broad liberal arts and sciences education” that will enable students to go on to earn a bachelor’s degree, the report charges. Short-term vocational certificate don’t lead to middle-class jobs and usually can’t be used to earn an associate degree or higher.
. . . community colleges, which already serve a large proportion of the lower-income, minority population are tracking students into dead-end paths that afford no opportunity for later pursuing a bachelor’s degree. In the name of short-term success, students are being tracked out of access to the gold standard of college degrees. To the extent that such tracking is disproportionately for students of color and lower-income students, current policy is even further rationing higher education by race/ethnicity and social class background.
Community colleges can improve “productivity” and graduation rates by focusing on students who are most likely to succeed — typically middle-class and affluent Anglo students — and “tracking students of color and lower-income students into short-cycle certificate and terminal workforce development programs,” the report charges.
Pell Grants for low-income college students emerged as the president’s favored program in the debt-ceiling deal: Pell will get enough money to keep the maximum grant at $5,550. That means an extra $17 billion for the program between 2012 and 2015.
The White House said in a fact sheet posted online Sunday night that the deal was “designed to protect crucial investments like aid for college students,” giving “specific protection in the discretionary budget” to ensure that there will be sufficient funding to keep Pell Grants at their current level.
President Obama wants to be the Pell Grant President, writes Mickey Kaus. “The phrase ‘President’s Historic Investment in Pell Grants’ is repeated twice, verbatim, for the proper Great Leap Forward effect.”
“A broad consensus has formed in recent years that Pell Grants need reform,” notes Inside Higher Ed. Pell advocates were prepared to restrict eligibility in order to prevent cuts in grant levels. The deal provides time to redesign the program.
“It gives some stability to the Pell Grant program for a couple of years,” said Becky Timmons, assistant vice president for government relations at the American Council on Education. “Going forward, with the second part of the deal calling for pretty drastic cuts, it’s anybody’s guess how deep that will go.”
Richard Vedder suggests ways to get more graduates for the bucks.
Students whose predicted academic success rate (based on high school performance, test scores, etc.) is low would be given a Pell Grant on a probationary basis usable initially only at two-year degree colleges or certificated career-college programs; if they succeed there, they could pursue a four-year degree.
Pell Grant costs more than doubled in three years to reach $36 billion. Yet the U.S. Education Department doesn’t track the graduation rates of Pell Grant recipients.
North Carolina’s cost-efficient, no-frills community colleges show how to educate students in hard times, writes Duke Cheston for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy. It’s a lesson the University of North Carolina system may have to learn, adds Cheston, a UNC-Chapel Hill graduate.
In 2009-10, state taxpayers spent $1 billion for 250,000 full-time-equivalent community college students vs. $2.7 billion for 200,000 UNC students. Total spending was $1.7 billion at community colleges, $8.3 billion at UNC.
This means that UNC spends three times more per class taught in taxpayer money and over six times more in total money than community colleges.
Community colleges can’t afford frills. At Randolph Community College in the rural Piedmont, 88 percent of the budget pays for instruction, says Robert Shackleford, the president.
There are no proliferating women’s centers or diversity centers, no extravagant student unions and gyms, few spacious and well-manicured lawns, no abundant and highly paid administrators, no research, and no gigantic football stadiums at community colleges.
In the fall of 2009, Randolph Community College’s enrollment grew by 16 percent while state funding dropped by 11 percent. Shackleford, asked some professors to teach eight three-credit-hour classes per week. That’s twice the load at the most teaching-oriented UNC campuses and four times the load expected at UNC-Chapel Hill and North Carolina State. But it was only one class over Randolph’s usual limit of seven classes.
Threatened with loss of accreditation, Randolph hired 35 new faculty members and reduced the average teaching load to six classes per instructor.
The UNC system faces cuts of up to 17.4 percent, which will inflict “irreparable damage to our academic quality and reputation,” predicts President Thomas Ross.
Yet UNC will retain its huge spending edge over the state’s community colleges.
The more we spend on higher education the more we spend on higher education, complains Greg Beato on Reason.
All of California’s community colleges are trying to serve more students with less funding.
In San Mateo County, south of San Francisco, parcel tax to fund community colleges is on the June 8 ballot. That’s a first for California, reports the New York Times.
The tax would cost the owners of each parcel of property $34 per year and raise an estimated $6 million to boost the district’s $80 million budget.
All the money would to a special fund, which would be used to rehire part-time instructors.