State budget cuts come down harder on regional campuses and community colleges than they do on larger, flagship universities.
Writing for the Hechinger Report, Jon Marcus explains why this is the case, and how the discrepancy puts low-income, minority students at a severe disadvantage.
Why is the funding uneven? There's a two-part answer.
First, performance funding is gaining traction. In many states, new policies determine the amount of funding each school gets based on graduation and retention rates—i.e. "performance." But the performance formulas often put large, flagship universities with higher-performing students at an advantage, Marcus argues.
Students enrolled in regional and community colleges are often low-income, minority students, who are academically less prepared than their flagship-attending counterparts. These students are disadvantaged to begin with, so when they attend schools with limited funding, they face a number of obstacles to graduating on time and are less likely to do so.
The college's lower graduation rate leads to lower funding under a performance model, and the lower funding in turn harms performance. It's a vicious cycle, which Tom Harnisch, the director of state relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, refers to as a "caste system in public higher education."
The second explanation for uneven funding has to do with resources. States have been slashing higher education budgets for years, and even if they balance the cuts across institutions, the results are drastically different from school to school.
Schools deal with funding cuts in a number of ways
When funding from one source decreases, flagship universities can fall back on alternate sources of income, such as endowments, research funding, donors, and out-of-state students who pay high, sticker-price tuitions.
Regional and community colleges have no such fallbacks, so a budget cut that looks fair could actually be debilitating.
Harnisch likens the phenomenon to giving "flagships a cold and regional campuses pneumonia."
Some experts say there may also be a third reason for funding disparities: racial bias.
"If we're talking about state legislatures, we're also talking about white men who may be identifying more with people who look like them who go to four-year flagships, rather than lower-income students of color who go to community colleges," argues Colleen Campbell, a senior policy analyst for the Association of Community College Trustees.
Marcus argues that the educational achievement gap is going to keep growing if regional and community colleges continue to lose funding at this rate.
Or, he writes, community colleges could become unaffordable—they're supposed to be the least expensive postsecondary option, but that's impossible when they have to raise tuition to survive budget cuts (Marcus, Hechinger Report/PBS, 1/3).
To generate additional revenue following funding cuts, you'll have to get creative. Here are 200 ideas.