Posted by: crudbasher | March 1, 2012

Community Colleges Fall Into A Trap


(cc) Alex E.Proimos

I was yelling at my computer this morning.

Many universities are living on borrowed time. Those without large endowments are being squeezed by the current economic circumstances. And yet, many are still expanding their facilities. More amenities and massive facilities seem to be good for marketing but they become fixed expenses. This also says that most schools don’t feel like they attract students based on their academic program alone. So what happens to these schools if a quarter of their students leave for other ways of learning? Many would choke on their fixed costs.

This is why I was yelling at my computer this morning. I read this story that says more students are picking community college for at least their first two years. With this influx of new students community colleges are responding by building new amenities. Bad idea.

These students are choosing community college over a larger (more expensive) university for one reason: cost. They are looking for the piece of paper that says they did their first two years so cost is their most important criteria. Here’s the trap. Once community colleges add all these new facilities they inevitably will have to raise prices to pay for them all. Once they start to get closer to regular 4 years college costs, the reason students have to go there will be removed. Therefore the students will stop coming (as much). Community colleges will then be stuck with large fixed costs and will be in real trouble (just like many 4 year schools are now).

College should be about learning. Right now it seems it’s about everything else but that. You don’t need a 4 star resort to be able to learn. President Obama said he wants more of our population to go to college. You can agree or disagree with that idea, but it’s clear that raising the cost of college won’t help that goal. We need programs to drastically reduce the costs and serve drastically more student. Physical colleges don’t scale well. Online does. I know who will win in the end.

So, community colleges, as you build these eternal monuments to yourselves, just remember there are other kinds of eternal monuments.

(cc) Rick Payette



    • Community colleges are hot these days, and not just with photo-op seeking politicians. They’re an increasingly popular choice for 18-22 year-olds from the upper middle class, thanks to cheap tuition, a career focus, smoother transfer options and growing public respect for the sector’s academic chops.
    • Relatively affluent young students are typically better-prepared academically and have a good chance of earning a degree. They are also more likely to attend full-time, require less remediation than their peers and can be cheaper for community colleges to educate.


      But this group is also demanding, as traditional-age students want a full campus experience with amenities like fitness centers and extracurricular activities, which can mean new buildings and strained student service budgets. They are also more likely to seek out counselors, experts said.

    • The college has taken many steps to respond to the changing demographics on its main campus. To improve student amenities, college officials remodeled the cafeteria and expanded and updated the fitness center. The college also created a first year experience office and related programming. A new student life and leadership center is in the works, with a related fund-raising campaign launched in 2010.
    • The increase in full-time students has helped to offset those costs, said Crabill, because part-time students use student services, too, without paying full-time tuition.
    • Raritan Valley has added some of the trappings of a four-year college.


      To wit, the college recently added men’s and women’s varsity soccer teams, and a club ice hockey team. It’s a big change for a community college that has often struggled to field teams.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.



  1. Don’t forget that the majority of the cost of educating CC students has been borne by the states. Whether the facilities costs get passed on to the students is at least partially dependent on how they are financed. If the bonds are tied directly to the states, then they might not result in increased costs for the students.

    Still, ideally, I’d love to see the CC’s investing in increasing online learning facilities that will allow them to teach better and at lower cost.

    • Well I agree to a point. States that are doing well economically can afford to bury this cost in bonds but other states might not be able to. This is especially true if states start to lose their good credit rating.

      Also, don’t you think that what money there is would be directed to the big state universities rather than CCs? They certainly have more prestige.

      I agree with you that expanding online learning facilities is by far the most effective use of any moneys coming along.

      Thanks for your very thoughtful comment!

      • CCs (and other state postsecondary institutions) are facing a time where they are going to have to make decisions about what to cut. It’s not any more just about adding a new program, or cutting back on the number of times a class is offered. State funding has been cut, it’s not coming back. The student portion of costs has risen from less than 30% of the total costs 10 years ago, to about 50% of the total costs today, and that is putting a strain on potential students. Sometimes the easiest short term solution is to cut the most expensive programs. But this may not be good long term, as these are often the programs that offer the best salaries and prospects for future employment.

        The best institutions will have clear visions for their institutions, and make decisions that support that vision.

  2. Yes I think you are exactly right. It’s all about vision. Schools that put learning first will do ok. Everything else is just overhead.

  3. […] we have seen a building program unmatched at any other time in history by universities. Even community colleges are getting into the […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: