The Community College of Aurora, a community college in a Denver suburb, has kicked off a capital campaign to fund the construction of a new STEM building. The facility will be the first new building built on CCA’s campus in more than two decades.
If a capital campaign seems like an unfamiliar way to fund community college construction, it is likely the result of years of disinvestment by the State of Colorado in its public higher education institution. Currently, student tuition and fees make up more than 70% of revenue at colleges and universities in the state. As a point of comparison, in 2000, student tuition and fees accounted for about 25% of college and university revenues in Colorado.
That doesn’t leave much funding for capital projects, but in this case, the state has already committed to providing $6.2M of the building’s $14M anticipated cost. A private donor has given the school $1M toward the project, and the school will use $1.5M from its reserves. That leaves CCA to raise the remaining $5.3M. Colorado community colleges may not use general fund revenues to fund capital construction.
Currently, tuition for in-district students at CCA is nearly $320 per credit hour. Not surprisingly, enrollment at Colorado’s community colleges declined by 16% during the pandemic. Specifically, enrollment at CCA dropped by 9% in 2020 and 15% for the fall 2021 semester. Relying on students to pay the bills isn’t working out so well. (As it turns out, community college students have their own bills to pay.)
Community college future depends on public investment
Rising housing costs in and around Denver have made it difficult for low-wage earners to remain in the area. Those low-wage earners are the people who typically enroll in community colleges. In Denver, they’ve been replaced by people who already have 4-year and post-graduate degrees. The newer residents are not likely to enroll in CCA classes anytime soon. All of this will make it difficult for CCA to raise the $5.3M needed to build the STEM facility.
If you think that Colorado’s colleges and universities might catch a break with federal COVID funds, think again. The state cut its higher education budget by $493M this year, largely because it could offset those cuts with $450M in federal funding.
Paradoxically, the State of Colorado has set a goal of having 66% of its residents earn a post-secondary degree by 2025. (They’re lagging on that one.) And just 31% of its residents have a four-year degree. The low percentage of educational attainment comes with a cost. (Michigan’s educational attainment is also below the national average.) The workforce ultimately lacks the skills to attract and retain employers. That results in lower median incomes, lower income tax collections, lower property values, lower property tax collections, waning populations, and so on.
Michigan allows community colleges to issue bonds for capital construction. But certain Trustees at WCC are so personally tax-averse that they will not consider asking residents to fund campus construction. The future they envision is like Colorado, where students generate 70% of the community college’s budget.
If $300/hour tuition isn’t the future you envision for WCC, it’s time to examine carefully who occupies WCC Board seats.
Photo Credit: DennisM2 , via Flickr