ERIC Identifier: ED400024
Publication Date: 1996-08-00
Author: Burstein, Matthew
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Community Colleges Los Angeles CA.
The Thin Green Line: Community Colleges' Struggle To Do More
with Less. ERIC Digest.
There is a tension at the very heart of community colleges: With their
ambitious and broad institutional mission to meet the varied educational needs
of their constituents, community colleges must reconcile limited resources with
open door admissions policies. This tension has been exacerbated by America's
economic difficulties in the late 1980s and early 1990s. While enrollments at
most community colleges have shown an upward trend, their budgets have not
increased sufficiently to compensate for colleges' rising costs (Kapraun and
Heard, 1992). Making matters even more difficult, state-level financial support
for higher education between 1990 and 1991 fell 30% in Massachusetts, 27.2% in
New Jersey, 15% in Rhode Island and Virginia, 13% in Connecticut, 10% in
Maryland, and 9.5% in California (Summers, 1991).
In order to deal with the budget troubles which seem so much a part of
educational planning in the 1990s, community colleges have taken various steps
to preserve a maximal amount of student programming while simultaneously facing
up to the harsh realities of their limited funding levels. In order to meet the
goals of their broad mission statements while adjusting to insufficient or
diminishing levels of funding, colleges have generally had to cut back on
programming and find sources of revenue outside of state support. This digest
examines the limitations of California's educational funding plans and
chronicles the efforts of California's community colleges to deal with the
impact of their state's financial problems.
CALIFORNIA'S FUNDING GAP
The California community college
system, with its 107 colleges and 1.4 million students, accounts for 10% of all
U.S. college students and is the largest system of higher education in the world
(Huggett, 1991). A 1992 study undertaken by the Board of Governors of the
California Community Colleges revealed that the revenue sources which support
the colleges would provide approximately $2.8 billion dollars for the academic
year. However, the study also determined that $5.1 billion would be required for
the colleges to meet the standards advocated by the Board of Governors to carry
out their institutional mission as set forth in California's Master Plan for
Higher Education. This "funding gap" is the difference between actual funding
and the funding required to fully meet the institutional mission, and, at $2.3
billion, the gap is 82% more than what is actually available in the budget.
According to the study, this gap has developed over the past decade as a result
of 1978's Proposition 13 (which limited property taxes), inadequate funding
between 1982 and 1985, the funding cap on growth since 1982, and California's
current budgetary problems. The following elements of the gap were highlighted
by the Board of Governor's study:
* $245 million to adequately serve the 52,000 enrolled but not funded FTE
* $1,548 million to raise the operating budgets from their current levels
($3,100 per FTES) to the current Program-Based Funding standard ($4,800 per
* $39 million to increase staff development and deferred facilities
maintenance funding to the recommended levels.
* $98 million to continue the capital outlay program at necessary levels.
* $382 million to restore access levels to those suggested by the Master Plan
by meeting the demand for adult education.
POTENTIAL CONSEQUENCES OF THE FUNDING GAP
community colleges have not remained unscathed by the seriousness and the
duration of the funding gap. The picture of California's community colleges that
is painted by the Board of Governor's study is one of a system attempting to
meet the needs of its constituents by straining beyond its means. Compared to
similar colleges in eight large, industrial states, California's community
colleges have a higher student/faculty ratio (27:1 compared with 18:1), larger
class sizes, and higher course loads taught by instructors during each academic
term (five per term in California, compared with only four elsewhere).
Similarly, library facilities do not provide the quality or quantity of services
available in comparable systems, and they frequently rely on outmoded technology
(Newmeyer and McIntyre, 1992).
The funding gap has also had an impact on educational access in the state.
Whereas community colleges served one in every eleven adult Californians in
1981, the colleges were serving one in every fourteen a decade later. For
colleges to have maintained the same level of access, they would have had to
enroll 280,000 more students than had actually enrolled in Fall 1991--an
unlikely proposition, as it is estimated that the colleges turned away 120,000
potential students. (Newmeyer and McIntyre, 1992). Moreover, tuition increases
have caused a large number of students who might otherwise have attended the
University of California or the California State University to enroll in
community colleges for the first two years of their undergraduate education.
This influx of students intending to transfer has diverted college resources
away from such activities as job retraining or citizenship education (including
English as a second language).
HOW COLLEGES ARE ADJUSTING
California's community colleges
have taken decisive action during this crisis period. Some of the methods
utilized by colleges for working around budget limitations include:
* Increasing business ventures: licensing products with college logos and
mascots, accepting corporate sponsorship for athletic championships, and
marketing college event radio and television broadcasting rights.
* Cutting course sections: during a three-year period, colleges cut some
13,000 course sections, about 10% of all classes offered in the system.
* Increasing average class size: 31.5 students, compared to the national
average of 21.
* Personnel reductions: several ways of reducing budget expenditures
included: not replacing vacancies created by the departure of faculty, staff and
administrators; reducing many staff positions to part-time status; laying off
employees; hiring freezes; and implementing "golden handshake" and early
* Transferring of costs: deferring maintenance, shifting employees to
alternately (or non-governmentally) funded programs.
* Redirection of monies between educational units.
* Offering low-expense coursework: because all courses receive the same
amount of state assistance, colleges began to focus resources on courses which
cost less to produce.
* Cutting summer course offerings.
* Reducing student activities, facilities and services, including library
hours and dramatic productions.
* Moving off-campus and extension courses back to the campus.
* Cutting the distribution of the schedule of classes: rather than merely
mailing schedules to all local constituents, schools began to mail schedules
only to continuing students or made them available on campus.
* Utilizing differential fee structures, whereby community college student
who already have baccalaureate degrees paid $50 per unit instead of the normal
$13 per unit fee.
Many of these activities have had
serious effects on the abilities of community colleges to meet the needs of
their constituents and fulfill their missions. The differential fee structure,
for example, directly resulted in a loss of 50% of students with Bachelor's
degrees and 4% of all community college students (Brinkman, 1993). Not only did
this fee structure reduce college enrollments, but it demonstrated an
institutional bias: Generally, students with Bachelor's degrees who attended
community college were those who were seeking job training of some sort. This
bias toward traditional transfer and vocational students stands in contrast to
the universality of the mission of the community college. The differential fee
structure was subsequently dropped in January of 1996, marking a return to the
broader notion of educational access that the community college represents.
Colleges will have to continue to make similar strides to balance the needs of
the community, the educational mission of the college, and the financial
situation of the state.
Brinkman, Charles R. IV. "How Will the
Implementation of a Differential Tuition Fee Structure at the California
Community College System Influence Student Enrollment?" Graduate Seminar Paper:
University of California, Los Angeles, 1993. 44pp. (ED 359 993)
Huggett, Kim. 1991: How Colleges are Coping, Pleasanton, CA: Chabot-Las
Positas Community College District. 1991. 16 pp. (ED 377 921)
Huggett, Kim. How Colleges are Coping, Numbers 2-6, February-October 1992.
Pleasanton, CA: Chabot-Las Positas Community College District, 1992. 37 pp. (ED
Huggett, Kim. How Colleges are Coping, Numbers 7-13, January-November 1993.
Pleasanton, CA: Chabot-Las Positas Community College District, 1993. 73 pp. (ED
Huggett, Kim. How Colleges are Coping, Numbers 14-17, March-October 1994.
Pleasanton, CA: Chabot-Las Positas Community College District, 1994. 48 pp. (ED
Kapraun, E. Daniel, and Heard, Don A. Assessing the Financial and
Institutional Concerns of Arkansas Community and Technical Colleges: A Model
Approach. Fayetteville, AK: Department of Educational Leadership, Counseling,
and Foundations, University of Arkansas, 1992. 17 pp. (ED 352 088)
Newmeyer, Joe, and McIntyre, Chuck. Funding Gap Study. Sacramento, CA: Board
of Governors of the California Community Colleges. Paper presented at a meeting
of the Governors of the California Community Colleges, Sacramento, CA, March
12-13 1992. 69 pp. (ED 351 066)
Summers, Susan Robinson. Financing the American Community College in the
1990's: A Kind of Blues or the Same Old Tune? Gainesville, FL:
Interinstitutional Research Council, University of Florida, 1991. 26 pp. (ED 336