States and localities pump more money into community colleges than four-year campuses

Public four-year colleges, on the other hand, charge much higher tuition and ultimately spend more than double their state and local funds on their students. Flagship universities attract large donors and can tap into their endowments. “They can still provide a much better education,” Laderman said.

By the way, I was struck by the fact that we as a nation spend less on public higher education than on public schools for young students. Per-pupil funding for K-12 students averaged $15,711 in the 2019-20 school year, according to the most recent data from the Department of Education. Again, it makes sense for the government to spend more on children’s education, which is mandated by the state. College is optional.

Legislators have historically funded four-year public institutions that grant bachelor’s and graduate degrees, such as the University of Texas, more generously than two-year colleges, such as Austin Community College, which award associate degrees and educate more than a third of undergraduate students. Across the country. When the 2008 recession hit, community colleges and four-year universities were hit with major budget cuts.

However, as the economy recovered, state legislators restored funding to community colleges, which positioned themselves as places to train the blue-collar workforce. In addition to allocating more money directly to two-year colleges, lawmakers created many new free community college programs and scholarships, which now operate in hundreds of cities and counties and across the state in nearly of 30 states. In contrast, a conservative backlash against “liberal” academics has dampened enthusiasm for funding increases at more elite four-year universities.

Community colleges also benefited from regional housing booms, which increased property taxes paid to two-year colleges.

Funding for community colleges, already on the rise, then surpassed that for four-year universities during the pandemic. State lawmakers had the discretion to spend some of their federal stimulus money and directed much of it to community colleges. Some states have dug even deeper into their own pockets. Washington, for example, increased its community college funding by 27% in 2021, introducing a free community college program. By comparison, the state increased funding for its four-year colleges by 6.5% that year.

Public and local funding for community college students, represented by the green line, has increased steadily since the 2008 recession, while funding for public university students has not increased as much. Funding per FTE or full-time equivalent means the amount of funds available for each full-time student or its equivalent number of part-time students. The majority of community college students attend part-time, and for example, two half-time students would equal one full-time equivalent student. Source: Survey of the Impacts of Credit and State Financial Aid for Higher Education, SHEEO, May 2021.

Ironically, some of the increase in funding per student was also due to bad luck. Community colleges have hemorrhaged 827,000 students during the pandemic as young adults choose work over school. Some government funding is tied to the number of students enrolled, but others are not. With fewer students, there was more of this untied funding to distribute among the remaining students.

Laderman cautioned, however, that this aspect of the increase was not a boon for community colleges. They still had to cover many of the same bills as before the students left, from teachers’ salaries to guards and electricity. Many are struggling financially.

Funding per student would have increased even without the drop in community college student enrollment. Laderman calculated that state and local education credits per community college student would have increased by half, or 7%, if enrollment had not declined.

It is unclear how funding for higher education will behave in the future. If a recession hits and unemployed adults go back to school, it could increase funds for community colleges. But lawmakers could also be forced again to cut funding if tax revenue dries up.

This story about community college funding was written by Jill Barshay and produced by The Hechinger Report, an independent, nonprofit news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for the Hechinger Bulletin.

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