Saturday, May 16, 2009

Our Community & Community Colleges

While the number of four year universities in the Sacramento region continues to grow; the health of our community college system—one of the best in the state and playing a larger role in the long-term economic viability of our area than may be immediately apparent—can always be rejuvenated by strategic government action.

A report from the Brookings Institution suggests a way, as noted in this news item.

An excerpt.

“To renew America’s status as the world’s leader in college attainment, the federal government needs to transform America’s community colleges and equip them for the 21st century. This long-overdue investment should establish national goals and a related performance measurement system; provide resources to drive college performance toward those goals; stimulate greater innovation in community college policies and practices to enhance the quality of subbaccalaureate education; and support data systems to track student and institutional progress and performance.

“America’s Challenge

Over the last two centuries, the United States created an advantage over other countries by helping our citizens attain formal education, generating an able workforce and technological advancement. Yet U.S. higher educational attainment, long considered a ladder to economic and social success, has stalled, and now reinforces inequalities between rich and poor America. Community colleges represent an affordable, accessible route for a wide income spectrum of students to access well-paying, high-demand jobs, as well as further education. But low degree completion rates at these institutions raise serious challenges for public policy efforts to achieve robust, broad-based economic growth.

“Limitations of Existing Federal Policy

Between 2000-2001 and 2005-2006 total enrollment in community colleges grew by 2.3 million students, more than in any other higher educational sector. The current economic downturn is spurring further increases. Yet community colleges receive less than one-third the level of direct federal government support as do public four-year colleges. This matters as economic research indicates that a relative decline in post-secondary funding diminishes degree completion. While all public colleges and universities rely on non-tuition revenue, community colleges depend disproportionately upon state and local governments, currently under severe budget pressure. Only the federal government has the capacity to raise expectations for community college performance and support the necessary investments to achieve those goals at a scale commensurate with the growing demands facing over 1,000 community colleges nationwide.”