Yesterday, President Obama announced an initiative to bolster community colleges, a measure that will cost taxpayers $12 Billion. I believe that more students should take advantage of lower cost community and vocation-oriented colleges, especially students seeking job-related training to enhance their employability. With that being said, a community college initiative ought to be welcome news.
The first issue that ought to be addressed in a community college initiative is the abysmal success rate. I will define success here as either finishing with a degree or other certification, or going on to a 4-year college. The Obama Administration apparently recognizes this need, allocating $9 of the $12 billion to two grant programs for campuses and states to test programs and practices designed to "improve student learning and training, increase completion rates, and better track student progress," according to the CHE, which described the 2 programs:
(1)"challenge grant" program would award funds on a competitive basis to community colleges that planned to put in place new partnerships, training, student services, and other programs that have proved promising;In theory, these grant programs should help determine how to improve outcomes at the CC level. This assumes that there are proper evaluation mechanisms in place to determine which programs are successful, and that policy makers are willing to accept the results and implement proven programs, and kill unsuccessful ones. Experience with the DC school voucher program suggests that the current Administration is not as pragmatic in its decision making as it campaigned, so the probability of a positive outcome from these programs is questionable.
(2)"access and completion fund" that will give money to community colleges to test promising ideas, such as providing performance-based scholarships to reward students who make progress toward graduation. It will also make money available to states to, among other things, help them develop data systems to track student progress at community colleges and to measure campuses' graduation rates and the employment outcomes for their students.
With an ambitious goal of graduating 5 million additional students from CC's, the other two major allocations puzzle me. Despite a recent DoE report that found online learning to be more effective than classroom learning, only $500 million is devoted to the development of online curriculum for CC students, whereas $2.5 Billion is aimed towards campus construction and renovations. This is fiscal irresponsibility at its finest. With staggeringly destructive budget deficits, scarce resources ought to be allocated where we can get the most bang for the buck. Online education can be offered on a scale that will improve access at a significantly lower cost per student than bricks and mortar. Once developed, the marginal cost of providing educational services approaches zero.
So why are we spending nearly $2.2 million for every 2-year public college in the U.S. for construction and repairs of physical facilities and investing so little in proven technology? I'm sure that the proprietary schools will have no problem continuing to absorb additional market share by responding to the demands of actual consumers who have jobs and need the flexibility offered by online classes.
Community colleges serve an important function in American higher education. They have a history of providing equality of opportunity for the less fortunate in society. I'm skeptical about this new effort due to the Obama Administration's brief history of decision-making procedures that parallels the strategy of Southpark's underpants gnomes. My fear is that this money will be expended superfluously in a fashion similar to that of the 4-year colleges that have bloated administrative and support staffs, a plethora of non-education related services and amenities and a dubious quality of education, and lead to spiraling tuition costs in CC's. In fact, one anonymous reader suggested in a recent email that the community college model is already oversold. We can only hope that things are different this time around, otherwise it will be just another $12 Billion of our money down the commode.