The nation’s community colleges are serving poorer and increasingly more African-American and Latino students, but getting a smaller piece of the federal aid pie, according to a new report by the Century Foundation.
The resulting separate and unequal higher education system is not working any better than the racially stratified and resource-poor public school systems outlawed by Brown v. Board of Education, the report says.
Between 1999 and 2009, the budget at public research universities — like the University of Wisconsin-Madison — increased by nearly $4,000 per student, while community college budgets increased by $1 per student, the report says. That's even though 66 percent of community college students need some kind of remedial training.
Federal and state educational polices haven’t kept pace with the growing enrollment at community colleges, where lower tuition may mean students are not eligible for existing aid programs, the study points out.
Community colleges may receive less money per student than even elementary or high schools, says Sara Goldrick-Rab, a UW-Madison professor and member of the committee that wrote the report. The financing gap contributes to some “appalling” completion rates, she said.
Just 19 percent of highly qualified low-income students who start out at community colleges succeed in getting a bachelor’s degree, while 69 percent of those who start at a four-year college obtain a degree, the report says.
Recommendations made in the report include providing better information to policymakers, giving more public money to institutions serving high-needs students, making transfer from community college to four-year institutions easier, and encouraging socio-economic affirmative action at four-year colleges and universities.
Community colleges get much less attention from the media too, one blogger notes, even as they take on an increasingly important role in the economy.