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Audits identify community college problems

Statewide examinations of community colleges are revealing factors that limit the institutions’ success. The audits identify major gaps in oversight, misspending, and strategy, all of which could explain why community college enrollment is dropping in those states.

California’s community college audit

California recently completed an audit of four of its community colleges. The audit, which the California State Assembly required, examined Foothill-DeAnza, Kern, Los Rios and San Diego. The statewide community college system has a goal of using full-time faculty members to teach 75% of the credit classes they offer. The 75% mark is not a requirement, but indicates that the state believes that instruction is best delivered by professional instructors.

Among the four community colleges studied, none of them met this standard. By itself, that’s not unusual. Only about 25% of the state’s community colleges have reached this measure. Among the study sites, Los Rios came the closest with full-time teachers leading 63% of its classes. San Diego fared the worst; full-time instructors teach just half of its credit course offerings. Ironically, Niche named Foothill-DeAnza the number one community college in the US in 2023.

The shortfalls on this metric are problematic for the state legislature. The CSA provided $100M in additional funding to the institutions specifically to recruit and hire more full-time instructors. Some of the colleges used the money to hire more part-time instructors. Others could not specifically account for the funds or did not spend the allocated funds at all.

The fact that the state recognizes the link between full-time instruction and community college enrollment is significant. More importantly, the state was willing to provide an additional $100M to ensure the availability of high quality instruction at the community college level. And it’s not as though qualified instructors were not available. Many part-time/adjunct instructors have the requisite qualifications to teach full-time.

Oregon’s community college audit

In December 2022, the Oregon Secretary of State’s office released the results of a systemwide audit of the state’s community colleges. The audit was a follow-on to a similar assessment conducted in 2015. At that time, the Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC) took on the oversight responsibilities for the state’s community college system.

Among the findings of the 2022 audit were that a large proportion of the state’s increases in community college appropriations funded management salaries. Since 2009, the system’s spending on managerial salaries has increased by 33%. That compares to increases in faculty salaries of 16% and increases in classified staff salaries of 18%. Spending on employee benefits has risen by 50%, and spending on employee retirement has increased by 69%.

The report also notes that the system will need an increase in state funding of 44% to sustain operations at their current levels and to avoid raising tuition substantially. Additionally, the auditors observed that HECC has made little effort to prepare the state’s community colleges for decreases in tuition revenues, the loss of the federal pandemic funds, and the near stagnant state appropriation.

I have said many times that the prosperity of a community college depends upon its full-time faculty and the quality of the oversight a college receives. Poor oversight leads to misspending. Administrative overgrowth is a form of misappropriation as is facilities neglect.

At some point, there has to be a recognition that adding more executives does not increase the efficiency of the organization, increase enrollment, or improve student outcomes. It simply represents a waste of funding that could have been spent on instructional programming and/or student support.

The problems start and end with the Board

The WCC Board of Trustees should be embarrassed by the sheer number of Vice Presidents that it has permitted the Administration to hire. Literally, no other individual community college of WCC’s size in the entire United States has as many Vice Presidents on the payroll. That is symptomatic of low-quality oversight that enables and authorizes large-scale misspending instead of preventing it.

The residents of Washtenaw County deserve so much more.

Photo Credit: Tracey Adams, via Flickr