Economy Improves, Community Colleges Suffer

BC_3668-webMany headlines like this recently: Broward College planning staff cuts, tuition increases. This is a growing trend in places. I can’t find a ready reference to it, but my union tells me that while Bunker Hill Community College is growing, some Massachusetts community colleges are shrinking, and facing budget cuts. (Or at least they are hiring fewer adjuncts in response to lower enrollments. Adjuncts–that’s a story or a hundred for another time.)

Broward College is planning staff cuts and tuition increases to help offset declining demand.

The college, which served about 68,000 students in the past year, is expecting a 5 percent drop in demand for classes this fall. Officials say the total number of Broward College students will likely be the same, but the college expects those students to take fewer classes. That means less money from the state and fewer tuition dollars, President David Armstrong said.

The Board of Trustees approved the $220 million budget, which includes about $10 million in cuts. Community college enrollment often dips when the economy improves, said Tom Oliff, senior vice president for administration.

“Florida has recovered as one of the stronger economies in the country and Broward in particular has stronger recovery numbers than most of the counties,” he said. “When people are employed, they have less available time to further their education. It’s a mixed blessing story.”

To me, it suggests an opportunity for community colleges to instill a mindset in students that learning is lifelong. If you look at lifetime earnings, an associates degree is better than a high school diploma or less, but a bachelors degree is yet another upgrade in lifetime earnings, and perhaps more importantly, economic mobility. A community college student who goes into the workforce might have trouble the next time the economy worsens, compared to someone with more education. I bet there are some numbers on this…

UPDATE: On a somewhat related note, Cape Cod Community College has issued its “right-sizing report,” and, at Change Magazine, Davis Jenkins and Clive Belfield ask what I find to be a depressing question, “Can Community Colleges Continue to Do More With Less?

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