Community College Presidents Worry About End of Recovery Funds

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Increased enrollments, smaller budgets and lowered expectations that the Recovery Act will continue to add to their coffers and finance more jobs – these are the findings of a recent survey of community college presidents.

“The continuing enrollment gains over the past 12 months confirm that the nation’s community colleges are at the forefront of both individual efforts and community response to the economic downturn,” said Kenneth C. Green, founding director of The Campus Computing Project, which conducted the survey in late February and early March.

 “The 2010 survey also reveals that the community colleges remain on the receiving end of the ‘do more with less and do it better’ mantra that typically accompanies budget cuts and economic upheaval,” Green stated in an article that accompanied the survey. “Community colleges are serving a lot more, and are doing it with much less.

“This has significant consequences for instruction resources, instructional support, and for student support services.”

The enrollment gains include spikes in such areas as business, health care and technology, according to the survey.

Budget cuts are more complicated: though the actual number of community colleges reporting budget cuts this year is down – 52 percent of survey participants versus 57 percent for late year – the percentage of campuses being hit with reductions of more than 10 percent jumped from 7 percent last year to 18 percent this year.

Similarly, there was a slight decline in the number of community colleges that reported cuts in their budgets for instruction and administrative services, technology resources and professional development this year, more institutions had to make larger cuts in these categories in 2010 than in 2009, the survey states.

With fewer resources for more students, more community colleges – particularly metropolitan community colleges – have imposed enrollment caps; 10 percent this year versus 9 percent last year.

At the same time, college presidents see the Recovery Act money that has helped them through tough times for the past year beginning to run out.

“While presidents are no doubt happy to have stimulus money, the survey data suggest some tempered optimism about the benefits of the federal money to aid enrollments at their colleges and improve employment in their communities,” Green wrote.

The survey found that only 62 percent of community college presidents agreed or strongly agreed that federal stimulus money would benefit enrollment at their institutions, compared with 68 percent in 2009. Similarly, 55 percent of presidents agreed or strongly agreed that stimulus money would benefit employment in their communities, versus 77 percent a year ago.

Of those surveyed, roughly two-thirds received federal stimulus money, with the average award being $1.95 million. It was spent to retain professors (at 43 percent of community colleges), keep instructional support staff (32 percent), pay administrative and clerical jobs (25 percent), create new instructional positions (15 percent); hire clerical or custodial personnel (6 percent) and improve physical plants (16 percent).

George Boggs, president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges, said there is less of a sense of hope that the Recovery Act will make much of a difference because the money is running out and was also allotted to community colleges in disparate ways depending on the prerogatives of various state governments.

“Overall, the stimulus bill did a lot of good for higher education and higher education students,” Boggs said, citing as an example increases in Pell grants for needy students.

"The big worry is: What’s going to happen when stimulus money runs out?” Boggs said. “People feel like they’re approaching a cliff and they’re going to fall off.”