Community colleges play vital role

Published 9:34 am Saturday, January 2, 2010

Editor’s note: Patsy Joyner’s column, which usually runs on Fridays, is being published today to accommodate a holiday schedule in which we only published twice this week. Her column will resume every other Friday beginning on Jan. 15.

According to the Virginia Community College System, state economists have determined that the recession has eliminated 80,000 Virginia jobs. In tandem, more than 21,000 additional people are attending Virginia’s Community Colleges than just two years ago. No doubt, community colleges nationwide and in Virginia offer affordable access to postsecondary education and work force training that families, employers and communities will need to weather the current economy.

With the increasing enrollment and recent cumulative two-digit budget cuts, Virginia’s community colleges have plans to visit with their delegates and senators during the upcoming 2010 General Assembly session in an effort to minimize expected additional budget cuts. Representatives from each of the 23 community colleges (including PDCCC) will travel to Richmond to meet with the legislators who represent their service regions to stress the following information specifically outlined in the 2010 VCCS legislative agenda.

VCCS Legislative Priorities

* Preserve community college funding to serve record enrollments

* Support scholarship match legislation to attract private investment into Virginia’s economic recovery.

* Support planning money for long-needed community college renovations.

The Facts

For more and more people, Virginia’s community colleges represent a personal economic recovery plan. Preliminary numbers indicate that student head count has increased by more than 21,306 students (9 percent) in just two years (FY’07, 167,175; FY’09, estimated at 188,481). This translates into a 12,300 (12 percent) increase in student FTEs (FY’07, 96,856; FY’09, 108,573).

Virginia’s community colleges are dedicated to serving Virginians and Virginia communities. In fact, in-state students account for 95 percent of the VCCS enrollment. Virginia’s community colleges have served that increasing enrollment amid more than $100 million in state budget cuts over the last two years. While federal stimulus money has helped soften the blow, that funding is set to expire in 2012 — if not sooner.

Additionally, Virginia’s community colleges are among the least funded higher education institutions in Virginia — funded at only 86 percent of the legislative funding formula.

On a per-student basis, the state funding Virginia provides to its community colleges ($3,156) is roughly the same as the TAG grant ($3,000) it gives to private universities. Next year, it will likely drop below TAG grant funding.

On a per-student basis, state funding for Virginia’s community colleges is the lowest it has been in a decade.

Consequences of Funding Cuts

Cutting community college funding today threatens jobs tomorrow. Some of the highest-in-demand occupational programs are also some of the most expensive to offer because their hands-on nature requires low student- to-teacher ratios.

Many of today’s most promising career fields, including medicine, energy and engineering, demand the technical training community colleges offer. Virginia’s community colleges are essential to Gov.-elect Bob McDonnell’s campaign pledge to, “Make Virginia’s workforce the best prepared and well-paid in America.”

Needed Facility Renovation/Expansion

Community college enrollment growth, which beats SCHEV expectations many times over, requires long-delayed renovations and facility expansions. Thus, Virginia’s community cvolleges are asking for $38 million for planning money to renovate nearly one-million-square feet of outdated facility space that is characterized as “poor” in the facilities condition index.

And timing is critical. Approval for the planning money this year is essential to maximize the potential resources available from the pending federal American Graduation Initiative and to ensure that future state funding will not come at the same time the money is needed for other higher education projects.

Bipartisan Agreement

The work of Virginia’s community colleges is one thing leaders from both parties agree upon. President Barack Obama is calling for 5 million more U.S. college graduates by the year 2020. McDonnell is calling for an additional 100,000 Virginia college graduates over the next 15 years. Neither goal will be realized with continued cuts to our community colleges.