Public four-year colleges, by contrast, charge much higher tuition and ultimately spend more than double their state and local funds for their students. Flagship universities attract big donors and can dive into their endowments. “They can still teach a lot better,” Lederman said.
With one exception, I was amazed that as a nation we spend less on public higher education than we do on public schools for younger students. According to the latest data from the Department of Education, the average student funding per kindergarten through high school students in the 2019-20 school year was $ 15,711. Then again, it makes sense for the government to spend more on educating children which is mandatory by the state. College is optional.
Lawmakers have historically funded four-year government institutions that offer undergraduate and graduate degrees, more generously than two-year colleges such as the University of Texas, Austin Community College, which offers associate degrees and educates more than a third of undergraduate students. All over the country. When the 2008 recession hit, both community colleges and four-year universities suffered similarly big budget cuts.
As the economy recovered, state legislators raised funds for community colleges, which established themselves as a training ground for blue-collar workers. In addition to allocating more money directly to two-year colleges, lawmakers have created many new free community college programs and scholarships, which now operate in hundreds of cities and counties in about 30 states and across the state. In contrast, a conservative reaction against “liberal” academics undermines the urge to raise funds at a more elite four-year university.
Community colleges have also benefited from the regional real estate boom, which has increased property taxes flowing to two-year colleges.
Funding for community colleges, already on the rise, then surpassed four-year universities during the epidemic. State legislators were prudent about how to spend a portion of their federal stimulus money and run a large portion of community colleges. Some states have dug deeper into their own pockets. Washington, for example, increased its funding for community colleges by 27 percent in 2021, as it launched a free community college program. By comparison, that year the state increased funding for its four-year colleges by 6.5 percent.
Ironically, some increase in funding per student was also driven by misfortune. Community colleges bled 827,000 students during the epidemic because young people chose to work in schools. Some government funds are linked to the number of students enrolled but some are not. With fewer students, there was more of that unprepared fund to spread among the rest of the students.
Lederman warns, however, that this aspect of growth is not a boon for community colleges. They still had to cover many of the same bills before the students left, from teachers’ salaries to parents and electricity. Many are struggling financially.
Although the enrollment rate in community colleges did not decrease, the funds per student would increase. Lederman calculated that state and local education allocations per community college student would have increased by half or 7 percent, if enrollment had not decreased.
It is unknown at this time what he will do after leaving the post. If a recession hits and unemployed adults return to school, it could raise funds for community colleges. But once tax collection dries up, lawmakers may again be pressured to cut funding.
This story about Community college funding Written by Jill Barshe and produced by The Hatchinger, a non-profit, independent news organization focusing on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for Hatchinger newsletter.