Community colleges need more funding

Published 9:13 am Friday, January 9, 2009

On Jan. 5, the Virginia Community College System shared information on its Web site about a recent editorial from “USA Today” that explained, once again, how vital community colleges are to America’s efforts to shake-off this bad economy.  The editorial also noted that investments in community colleges need to be a central piece of the next federal economic stimulus package, underscored by the following facts:

Community colleges educate roughly half of all students but receive only a fourth of what’s handed out in local and state funds to four-year public and private colleges.

Over the next decade, at least 57 percent of all job openings will require postsecondary education, but not necessarily a four-year degree. Some of the highest-demand workers get their job training at community colleges, including half of new nurses.

Approximately 40 percent of teachers get their academic start at community colleges.

Community colleges reach many students four-year colleges miss, including 35 percent of undergraduate minority students and 39 percent of undergrads who are the first generation in their family to attend college.

While many private, four-year colleges are seeing dips in applications, community college enrollments this fall rose by 8 to 10 percent. And yet, in most states, the per-student aid is shrinking.

We can only hope this message is being heard by those who are deciding on the details of that economic stimulus plan.

Virginia’s Community Colleges and PDCCC

No doubt, community colleges nationwide and in Virginia offer affordable access to postsecondary education and workforce training that families, employers and communities will need to weather the current economy. In an effort to minimize budgetary cuts, Virginia’s community colleges have plans to share three points with their delegates and senators during the 2009 session of the General Assembly. Representatives from each of the community colleges will travel to Richmond to visit with legislators who represent their service regions. On Jan. 29 and Feb. 5, a PDCCC delegation, including students, will meet with Delegates Bill Barlow, Roslyn Tyler, Chris Jones and Lionell Spruill and Sens. L. Louise Lucas and Fred Quayle to stress the following points:

1. Affordability: Especially in times of economic turmoil, Virginia families need an affordable postsecondary option. Virginia’s community colleges embody the Jeffersonian principle of educational access and are the leading provider of postsecondary education to working-class families, minority groups and all those who depend on affordable college access. Tuition averages one-third that of 4-year colleges in Virginia. (Paul D. Camp has the lowest tuition and fees in the Virginia Community College System — with no charge for parking or student activities.)

2. Access: Virginia’s future requires the protection of postsecondary institutions committed to enrollment growth. Virginia’s Community Colleges are experiencing record enrollment. Already serving two out of every three undergraduate students in Virginia public institutions, Virginia’s Community Colleges have enrolled an additional 15,830 students over the last two years (a 6.8 percent increase). That number is bigger than the total enrollment of nine of Virginia’s 15 four-year universities and represents 80 percent of Virginia’s total enrollment growth. (PDCCC’s full-time equivalent enrollment (FTE) jumped 6 percent — from 820 to 869 last year — a record enrollment for 2006-07 to 2007-08. We may break 900 for 2008-09.)

3. Workforce training and jobs: To be competitive, Virginia employers and people need high-skilled training that only community colleges can provide. Putting Virginians to work and strengthening Virginia’s labor force is essential to the commonwealth’s competitiveness. (According to last year’s work force report, PDCCC served nearly 3,500 individuals in credit and noncredit workforce courses, ranking 11th among the 23 community colleges in Virginia.)

PDCCC President’s Perspective

Commenting on the current situation, PDCCC President Doug Boyce said, “College personnel understand as a state agency, we need to cut our spending to help with the current budget shortfall. As we prepare for 15 percent budget cuts for FY 2010, we are experiencing record enrollments in the VCCS and at PDCCC. People realize that educational preparation is an important part of dealing with the downturn in the economy. Our fear is that we will not have the capacity to adequately help.”