Report: Higher Ed Funding Inefficient for Community Colleges

Quick Takeaways:

  • The current approach to higher education funding “ends up being highly inefficient” and leads to higher costs per degree or certificate at community colleges.
  • Between 2001 and 2011 there was a substantial increase in funding at public and private research universities but a $904 drop in real funding at public community colleges.
  • More research is needed to determine how to better identify the different levels of funding higher education institutions receive, which will give a more accurate picture of the efficiency and equality of higher education funding.  

By Brittany Hackett, Communications Staff 

Despite their mission to educate students with the greatest need, community colleges receive significantly less public funding than other types of schools, and better investment in two-year schools can lead to greater educational results, according to a recent report from The Century Foundation (TCF).

According to TCF, the current approach to higher education funding “ends up being highly inefficient” and leads to higher costs per degree or certificate at community colleges, which see lower completion rates than other schools.  Private research universities spend five times as much per student as two-year schools, with public research universities spending almost three times as much, TCF notes in the report. 

Some argument can be made that the spending inequalities are justified because of the differing missions between community colleges and research institutions. However, the report states that the growing gap in spending over time seems hard to defend, considering research that shows community college students have greater needs than their four-year counterparts. Between 2001 and 2011 there was a substantial increase in funding at public and private research universities but a $904 drop in real funding at public community colleges.

TCF also disputes the argument that the current system is efficient because the majority of funds go to students who succeeded at the K-12 level. Rather, the report posits that the system for funding community college is inefficient due to under-matching and the large number of students who choose to attend for-profit and online schools.

As researchers and policymakers look for ways to improve the efficiency of higher education funding, TCF argues that the K-12 system “may be informative” due to the successful ways funding is distributed among low-income students. 

TCF makes three policy recommendations:

  1. The Department of Education (ED) or a group of foundations should support research to better identify the different levels of funding higher education institutions receive, which will give a more accurate picture of the efficiency and equality of higher education funding. 
  2. The federal government or a group of foundations should fund research into how to best educate the more-disadvantaged students.
  3. Policymakers should “fundamentally rethink” how higher education dollars are allocated to schools and students, with the goal of better matching student needs and public resources.

“As the nation becomes more racially, ethnically, and economically diverse, we can no longer afford to write off large chunks of our population,” TCF concludes, adding, “Providing adequate levels of funding to educate students of all backgrounds is a critical step in helping community colleges fulfill their original promise of serving as engines for social mobility.”

 

Publication Date: 6/2/2015


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