By Richard Vedder
I have long felt that a larger proportion of Americans doing post secondary education need to be in two year institutions, either community colleges or for profit schools, some of them offering valuable certificate training and skills. Some research recently confirms this, and some politicians are ignoring it.
First to the research. I met Sara Goldrick-Rab a few weeks back (I think at a Lumina Foundation conference), and I thought I would be turned off by her --she was a sociologist, which to economists is roughly the lowest form of academic humanity. Moreover, she teaches at Wisconsin, a hotbed of zany progressive ideas that for the most part, when implemented, lowered the quality of American life (in my opinion --most would disagree). But I liked Sara. She is young, enthusiastic, and passionate about her work --good qualities in any scholar or teacher.
Sara, in new work for the Brookings Institution, argues that there is no way we are to even approach President Obama's access goals without emphasizing community colleges. They are much more affordable than four years schools. They reach out to nontraditional students. They emphasis basic no frills instruction at an affordable price. If we increased the proportion of students in community colleges and do absolutely nothing else, we can lower the per student costs by at least 10-15 percent (say by going to a model where 60 percent of students go to these two year institutions, instead of 40 percent or less today). When resources are scarce (to most persons outside the Washington Beltway), this is the only reasonable way to expand access, if that is indeed desirable (which I must say I doubt).
Anyway, Sara is on the right track, and it is good to see an academic (and she has coauthors working with her) interested in calling more attention to community colleges.
25-30 percent of increases in enrollments in higher education these days are found in for profit institutions, many of them operating two year associate degree or certificate programs. The Ohio House of Representative voted to drastically reduce funding for these types of institutions. Why? Their growth has been substantial in a state with a static population, suggesting they are increasingly popular with the public. Shouldn't we encourage rather than discourage these institutions? Is private enterprise becoming a dirty word every where in America, even in stodgy Ohio which is usually the last state to jump onto political bandwagons, in this case Barack Obama's scheme to make this a Socialist Republic? Hopefully, the Ohio Senate, for the most part a group of uninspired political hacks without much backbone and utterly devoid of any sense of principle, will have an epiphany and say no to this attempt to stomp out the attack on this vibrant and productive higher education sector.