How Higher Education Funding Shortchanges Community Colleges
Kahlenberg, Richard D.
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The outcomes today at community colleges are often dismal. While 81 percent of first-time community college students say they wish to earn a bachelor’s degree or more, after six years, only 12 percent do so; two-thirds fail to get even an associate’s degree or certificate after six years. With 86 percent of high school graduates going on to college, the central challenge in higher education has shifted from access to college to something different: access to high-quality programs that have the support to ensure graduation. Given these low completion rates, new accountability measures are coming to higher education. This report looks at three key issues surrounding the funding of higher education: (1) What are the overall variations in spending between community colleges and four-year institutions, and do the justifications advanced for those differences hold up? (2) Are the current (relatively low) levels of funding at community colleges efficient, or inefficient? (3) Does it make sense to move toward a K–12 style system of “adequacy” funding in higher education, where public funding would be weighted toward institutions such as community colleges, which educate large numbers of low-income students? How would such a system work?