Community college funding: Put students first

The entrance to Pasadena Community College. (Photo: Angel DiBilio, via Shutterstock)

A certain (now disgraced) writer-producer-director is credited with saying, “80 percent of success is just showing up.”

That would be nice, right? But for many of us, this just doesn’t hold true.

Showing up to a job interview doesn’t get us 80 percent of the way to the job.

Showing up to college doesn’t get us 80 percent of the way into the class we want.

And 80 percent of a class grade being based on participation? Nice try…

Only in the suspended reality of the ivory tower is it bad to incentivize community colleges to encourage and help students complete those degrees.

For too long “just showing up” has also been the metric we use to determine funding for California’s Community Colleges.

Currently, local community colleges receive funding from the state based upon the number of seats they fill, without regard to how much help students need or how well the college does in helping them complete a degree or credential.  This is why Gov.Brown’s budget proposal seeks to revise the funding formula for the California Community Colleges to prioritize student success and equity.

This proposal has drawn broad support from business and equity groups alike – including the Campaign for College Opportunity, the Education Trust-West, the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, Alliance for a Better Community, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. These groups support this proposal because low-income and other underrepresented students are prioritized and student success metrics are embraced.

In the opposing corner are some community college faculty and some administrators, who seem afraid that any amount of funding could be used to incentivize success in degree or credential completion, which the marketplace known as the “real world” has no problem rewarding.

They call it the ivory tower for a reason. Only in the suspended reality of the ivory tower is it bad to incentivize community colleges to encourage and help students complete those degrees and credentials that are necessary for life success.

The sad reality is that we are not doing any favors by continuing the status quo of enrollment-based funding – not for the colleges and not for the students, fewer than half of whom complete community college even after six years. And it’s even worse for the 59 percent of Latino and 64 percent of Black students who lag their peers in this six-year metric.  We should be asking ourselves, who exactly is the winner in the status quo?

Fortunately, many community college districts are beginning to see the light, realizing that their colleges will do better and receive more money under a mixed funding formula that takes into account several factors. And they see shortening students’ time-to-degree or credential as an imperative.

Unlike the ivory tower, students must use their education to get out and make it in the real world, where they don’t get rewarded for just showing up. Let’s not pretend that it is unreasonable to expect our state-funded community colleges to help students get the degrees and credentials they need to succeed in this world.

It’s time to support changes to the community colleges funding formula.

Ed’s Note: Cassandra Jennings is CEO of the Greater Sacramento Urban League, and Pamela Haynes is a member of the California Community Colleges Board of Governors and the Los Rios Community College District’s Board of Trustees

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