Friday, May 29, 2009

fiscal crisis and higher education

I recently spent 10 days in California. My visit coincided with the special election on ballot initiatives intended to generate new revenues -- these initiatives were soundly trounced by voters (except for the one to prohibit raises for legislators in years with a deficit). The failure of the ballot initiatives was followed by many public pronouncements about the cuts that would have to follow.

The causes of California's fiscal crisis is multi-faceted and stems from circumstances both unique to California and its political culture and from the broader economic recession that has impacted all the states. This is not an attempt to analyze those causes, or even sketch a few of them. It's a comment on narrow aspect of California's budget that caught my eye while I was there.

While I was perusing a local SF Bay Area newspaper, I saw an advertisement encouraging students to enroll for summer classes at a local community college. It was a fairly typical assortment of general education and technical courses being offered. What caught my eye was the "fee" -- not tuition -- charged. The cost to students was $20 (yes, twenty) per credit hour.

Do not get me wrong, as a community college professor, I'm an ardent supporter of access to higher education for all interested in pursuing it. Maintaining reasonable tuition costs at community colleges is an important part of enhancing educational access. Some would say that Kentucky's Community and Technical College's $125 per credit hour (for Fall 2009) is pushing the upper end of the envelop, but that is far lower than tuition at Kentucky's four year colleges and Universities.

My point -- California could easily double their $20 per unit fee and still fall at among the nation's cheapest tuition for community colleges. Low income students in California could obtain Pell Grants to offset the increased fees. California's 110 community colleges enroll more than 2.5 million students most of whom are part-time, or 1 million full-time equivalent students. That's 1 million times a full-time load of 12 credit hours multiplied by and extra $20 per credit hour, which would create an additional $240 million in revenue. That could go a long, long way to prevent cutbacks in courses and enrollments currently proposed as the means to deal with the state's financial crisis.

How good is college access if college are cutting back on offerings, and projecting that thousands of students will be unable to obtain the courses they want, or in some cases find any courses in which to enroll?


E. R. Dunhill said...

Thanks for raising this issue. I think community colleges are hugely important, and like you, I'm concerned about their collective wellbeing in the present economic climate. After reading your post, I believe a modest donation to my alma mater is in order.

Pat Jenkins said...

as a father who is facing college costs in the near future 20 dollars sounds pretty good. but then again with a dad who knows it all like i do, she may not even need "four more years".... he he...