Community colleges show how to cut costs

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.