The Corner

Education

The Case for Community Colleges

I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard some lefty complain that the states aren’t “investing” enough in higher education any more, usually to accuse non-lefty lawmakers of taking precious funds away from the universities they fund. The truth is that most of those schools are black holes for money, with excessive spending for meager results.

A good argument, however, can be made that things are different with community colleges. The costs are low, the faculty is focused on teaching rather than cranking out “research” to pad the CV, and the coursework is more about filling in the actual learning gaps of the students. In this Martin Center article, Professor Rob Jenkins makes that case.

Jenkins attacks one of the standard raps against community colleges, namely that graduation rates are low. True, but that doesn’t tell the whole story:

In the ongoing debate over how to allocate tax dollars for higher education, community colleges often get a bad rap due to their “abysmal” graduation rates — as low as 15-20 percent, in some cases. Why spend money, the argument goes, on something that is clearly not effective, anyway? If we invest millions in institutions and programs where students do not graduate, what do we get in return for our money? Such arguments, focused solely on graduation rates, are misleading. Anyone associated with community colleges knows that a large number of our students transfer to four-year schools without actually graduating — that is, without earning an associate’s degree. Some just stay for a year before moving on, but many stay the entire two years and earn enough credits to graduate (or very close) — they just do not go to the trouble of filling out the paperwork to apply for the degree.

A high percentage of community-college students are men and women who did not come from families where education was much valued and (even if so), whose public schools did a lousy job of equipping them with basic skills. So if you truly believe in equal opportunity, you should support community colleges because they give such people an opportunity to succeed. Not all of them do, but at least they had a chance.

Jenkins concludes,

Given that waste is a fact of life at all levels of education — indeed, all levels of government — community colleges are among our leanest, most efficient institutions. They do not need rock-climbing walls, expensive health clubs, or luxurious dormitories to attract students. All they need is adequate staffing, competent, fairly-paid faculty, and reasonably modern facilities.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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