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Is the community college bubble about to burst?

Community colleges are viewed as cost-effective alts. to four year school. Are institutional spending habits about to change this mindset?

Photo of Curtis Leister
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Community colleges have often been viewed as cost-effective alternatives to traditional four year public (and definitely private) institutions. A quick look at one example, Austin Community College, shows that a standard 12-hour course load for in-state students costs just above $1,000 a semester. On the other side, a 12-hour course schedule at the University of Texas costs more than $5,000.

However, a 2013 New York Times article titled "The Tuition is Too Damn High, Part III — The three reasons tuition is rising" details higher education spending habits. The graph in the thumbnail illustrates some interesting findings, including community colleges cutting spending dramatically while collecting more net tuition revenue from paying students. Though state funding is looming factor in this trend, community colleges are apparently cutting student benefits through smaller spending, saving more money for a more "cheaper-to-produce" product. 

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

If these trends continue, community college may not be viewed at the same value for students based on decreased spending and keeping more student tuition payments, instead of filtering them into more student value such as hiring qualified professors.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Aafsar Dhuka

I think community college is used as a stepping stone for many people. After 2 years most people want to move on to a 4 year university. Community college is a good and cheap way for students to cover their basic classes. I don't think community colleges need to have the best professors to teach basic history classes.

Photo of An Old Friend

I think pure community college degrees are certainly hurting. As a stepping stone, this strategy makes plenty of sense though, so maybe this is evidence of a true shift from these schools. If so, what do we do about the students who see community college as the final destination for education?

Photo of Curtis Leister

True, professors are just one unit of a community college system. But if the larger issue is that these colleges are cutting costs and not giving students more benefits, what other parts of the classroom or overall college experience could they be cutting out? Devaluing the community college experience could hurt students who choose to take two years there, but want to transfer to a larger, four-year institution later if those admission policies believe the community colleges aren't preparing students.