Policymakers frequently highlight the critical role of community colleges in increasing America’s college completion rates and producing highly-skilled workers. The institutions enroll about half of all undergraduate students, many in career and technical education fields, and provide accessible, low-cost educational options to often underserved populations. Yet, a policy brief released last week by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) reminds us that the institutions receive a notably disproportionate amount of funding compared to four-year colleges and universities.
With a comparatively low cost and open enrollment policies, community colleges particularly benefit students who may not otherwise pursue a postsecondary education. Cost continues to be a barrier for postsecondary students, but community colleges offer a reasonable solution. The AACC brief states that, in the 2009-2010 academic year, average community college tuition and fees totaled $2,713 compared to $7,605 at 4-year public institutions and $13,935 at 4-year for-profit institutions.
Aside from benefitting students, community colleges are also an asset to surrounding communities. According to the brief, community college graduates are more likely to stay in their communities than four-year college or university graduates, filling skilled positions and fueling the local economy. Additionally, a study mentioned in the brief finds a 16 percent return on investment to state and local governments that provide funds to community colleges.
Despite the clear benefits to local and state governments, community colleges receive only about one-quarter of total federal, state, and local revenues for higher education. The report also reveals that community colleges historically receive about 20 percent of state tax appropriations to higher education, and only 4 percent of all federal earmarks for higher education during FY 2010.
In the recent months, the federal government has identified community colleges as a necessary vehicle to increase America’s college completion rates. But according to AACC’s brief, greater investments in community colleges will be necessary to meet this ambitious goal.