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NC Considers New Community College Funding Model

Legislators in North Carolina will consider a new funding model for the state’s 58 community colleges. The plan, which the community colleges developed last year, features funding tiers that consider the expenses associated with delivering specific programs. More expensive programs receive greater state funding.

Under the proposed model, enrollment still matters, but institutions would also be rewarded for offering programs that prepare students for high-wage, high demand jobs. That currently includes jobs in health care fields, information technology, engineering, advanced manufacturing, and transportation. The model is intended to provide incentives for the state’s community colleges to focus on preparing students for jobs in high demand.

Interestingly, the model does not distinguish between credit and non-credit courses occupational education programs, providing identical funding for both. General education courses, which students typically take as part of a degree program or when they intend to transfer, would not receive less funding than they do under the current model, but would not likely receive more funding. Some observers suggest that this may discourage schools from promoting community college as a transfer pathway because general education courses would not receive community college funding incentives.

Unfortunately, the model relies on a common, outdated justification for changing community college programs – speedily depositing people into the workforce by way of minimized training.

The reality is very clear: rapid training programs may or may not address the immediate needs of employers, but they generally do not address the needs of the students. In fact, minimized training programs may do workers more harm than good by failing to equip them with the information they need to succeed -long-term – in a particular field.

Community college funding should encourage high-wage employment

It’s not really enough to put a person in a job. Students need to know how long their skills are marketable; whether or not the skills they’re learning are general to the industry, or they simply reflect the specific needs of employers in the moment; and whether the skills they’re learning are portable – can they take the skills to another employer?

Shifting the focus to high-wage, high demand programs is entirely acceptable. Incentivizing community colleges to offer programs that train students for high-wage, high-demand jobs is likewise fine. At the same time, community colleges must eliminate the programs that don’t achieve this high-wage, high-demand standard.

I have often said that community colleges must implement a CAFE-like standard for their academic programs. The college must set progressive income targets for their program graduates, and those programs that do not rise to meet the target must be eliminated. That approach will send a very clear message to low-wage employers: raise your wages or look elsewhere for employees.

Low-wage jobs reflect poorly on the community colleges whose graduates get trapped in them. And it is bad public policy to continue to feed graduates into these industries. Interestingly, the institutions themselves have developed a community college funding model that recognizes and rewards focus on high-wage, high demand fields. The model should also promote funding for continued program development focused on creating an equitable economic return for students.

Photo Credit: Groovnick , via Flickr