Thursday, July 16, 2009

Tuition Community Colleges?

by Daniel L. Bennett

Community colleges have traditionally served two primary roles:
(1) A low-cost gateway to a baccalaureate degree;
(2) Provide low-cost job training to help locals improve their personal economic circumstances
Did you notice the common theme in the two roles--low cost? CCAP advocates that more students, especially those on fence about going to college, begin their postsecondary education at a community college because it is a much more cost effective way to knock out some credits and explore whether more education is right for them. If the student decides that college is not for them and that they would rather pursue a vocation, then they are likely not burdened with an exorbitant financial loss (or crippling student debt) that would have otherwise been incurred at a 4-year school. This also saves the taxpayer some money, so it is a win-win situation.

However, tuition and fees at community colleges could soon be rapidly rising thanks in part to President Obama's higher education "reform", mainly an increase in the Federal Pell Grant maximum and the $12 billion community college initiative. The President's goals are well-intentioned-- to increase access and affordability, but misinformed, as perverse incentives and unintended consequences are likely to arise from this free flow of public money. "Dean Dad" over at IHE's Blog U spelled out the likely consequence of community college tuition with the Pell Grant increase, stating:
I was puzzled to see an increase in Pell grants in a discussion of increased aid to cc's. Most cc's tuition and fees come nowhere close to the maximum existing Pell grant. Raising the ceiling even higher won't help cc's one bit, unless we raise our tuition and fees pretty dramatically to capture some of the increase
The papers are already buzzing about CC's beginning to add "bells and whistles" to their college campuses in the likes of dormitories, student centers and student services. This will likely set-off a game of follow the leader in which cc's expand their campuses with new facilities in a fashion similar to that of 4-year schools. This in turn will drive up operating and maintenance costs, as well as propel labor costs as more administrative and support employees will be "required" to staff the new facilities and provide student services. This will induce a cost-revenue spiral at cc's that will lead to a sharp spike in tuition. Notice the striking resemblance of this scenario to what has occurred at 4-year colleges for the past several decades. Why are we setting foot down a path in which the result is predictably bad when so many families are already concerned with the high cost of college? This will likely eliminate the comparative advantage of community colleges as a low-cost provider.

1 comment:

capeman said...

Hate to tell you, Daniel, the CC students would like some of the same amenities you got when you got your more upscale degrees, it's called increasing affluence, even if we are rapidly becoming a socialist country thanks to the pigouts of the recent past.

And yes, some of the CCs already have running water and indoor plumbing, electric lights, and central heating.