- Policymakers have left community colleges strikingly underfunded compared to four-year institutions and as a result have made it more difficult for them to serve their 9 million largely lower-income students, according to a new study by The Century Foundation.
- The report explains that two-year colleges face a crisis as they struggle with chronic poor performance by their students, on whom they spend about $14,000 each per year. Private research institutions, meanwhile, spend three times that amount, not including research functions.
- The report calls for more funding, including from the federal government, along with better research to establish what improvements to community college will cost and how they will pay off.
The report paints a stark portrait of the nation's support for community colleges, and its authors don't mince words, writing that policymakers have "systematically shortchanged" them. Richard Kahlenberg, executive director of The Century Foundation's Working Group on Community College Financial Resources, said the nation is "starving" them of necessary funding while "asking them to do increasingly more with increasingly less, and robbing them of their potential to serve as ladders into the middle class."
It notes that from 2004 to 2014, per-student spending on education grew by 4% at community colleges compared to 16% at four-year public colleges. State and local funding shrank from 64% of two-year colleges' funds to 52% during that period, while tuition's portion increased from 22% to 33%.
State spending cuts have a "more pronounced" effect on community colleges than public four-year institutions, causing them to cut their instructional spending nearly twice as much — about 56 cents on each dollar lost, according to a recent report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
As The Century Foundation's report notes, increased funding is attributed to better student outcomes. However, just 38% of community college students complete a degree or certificate in six years and only 15% transfer even though 81% say they intend to do so, its authors found.
With state funding tight, several proposals to increase it have tied the additional dollars to student outcomes. One such recommendation comes from the Aspen Institute, which in a policy paper earlier this year suggested a $22 billion infusion of performance-based funding for community colleges.
Its authors say the move would result in 3.6 million more students earning a college degree and another 28 million workers upgrading their skills. The outcomes would be based on whether students graduate and find gainful employment, while the distribution of funds would consider the local labor market and students' own economic conditions.
Community colleges themselves have moved to improve outcomes, using a combination of tactics such as guided pathways toward careers or transfers to four-year institution, wraparound support services to help with students' needs outside of the classroom, and efforts to reenroll students who dropped out.