Thursday, February 7, 2013
There’s good news and questionable news for community colleges following California Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal last month.
First the good news: nearly $200 million in increased funding. But the governor’s proposal also introduces policy changes community college leaders aren’t sure what to make of yet.
The biggest shift could be a change in how community colleges are funded. Now they receive funding based on enrollment, but Brown’s proposal would base funding on completion.
“We don’t know what that means exactly,” says Willard Lewallen, president of Hartnell College in Salinas.
Lewallen isn’t sure whether that funding formula will be based on course completion or degree completion. But community colleges face challenges to completion that other educational institutions don’t, he says.
For example, there are no admissions tests to enter Hartnell. And a student could be anyone from a recently graduated high school valedictorian to a 40-year-old high school dropout. Moving either of those students through to completion is a very different task, Lewallen says: “One size doesn’t fit all as to how we serve those students, because the needs are quite different.”
The funding change would be cost neutral, and districts losing funding because of completion would see that money shifted to student support programs, according to Dan Troy, vice chancellor of fiscal policy for the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office.
Again, Lewallen is unsure how this would work. It could mean that ultimately colleges would receive the same amount of funding, he says, but would be less free to decide how to use it.
“There are a lot of unanswered questions,” he says.