No love for Gov’s comm. college plans

Two months after the release of the budget trailer bill, the Department of Finance yesterday was unable to provide specific details on Governor Brown’s sweeping proposal to change the way community colleges are funded.

At a hearing before the Senate’s budget subcommittee on education, community college officials also questioned the reasoning behind that proposal and others that were considered and rejected following a yearlong review by the Student Success Task Force on community colleges.

The governor has recommended eliminating the current model, which funds community colleges based on how many full-time equivalent students (FTES) are enrolled, and replacing it with a system built around how successful colleges are at meeting performance standards. Schools would receive a 4 percent annual increase in their base budget for reaching those goals.

But at Monday’s hearing, finance officials couldn’t say what the standards are or how they’ll be measured. “We don’t have those metrics,” Juliana Morozumi told the panel. When pressed for some examples by Senator Roderick Wright (D-Inglewood), she indicated that successful outcome would probably include degree completion and transfer rates.

In an uneasy exchange, Wright suggested that some colleges could be penalized under this system for having a large number of students who just take a couple of classes they need to improve their job skills.  “That’s why I said we’re still working on it,” answered Morozumi.

The Legislative Analyst’s office and community college officials gave the governor a verbal pat on the back for raising the issue of accountability, but doubted this plan would fly. For starters, it would be a hard sell to legislators because it removes much of their authority for allocating resources to community colleges. It also leaves little time to develop what would probably be controversial accountability criteria and measurements by the time the final budget is approved. Additionally, the Student Success Task Force took a strong stand against performance-based funding.

“I appreciate the governor’s interest in reform and I’m hopeful he will buy into the reforms that we have suggested in the Student Success Task Force,” Chancellor Jack Scott said during a phone call last night. “To suddenly change the whole system to outcomes I think is frankly improbable.”

Sample student success scorecard (source:  Student Success Task Force report) Click to enlarge
Sample student success scorecard (source: Student Success Task Force report) Click to enlarge

The Chancellor’s office already has a working group developing metrics for student success scorecards recommended by the task force to promote better accountability and transparency.

Budget is bigger priority

Most people at the hearing saw the discussion of how to fund community colleges as something of a distraction compared with the issue of how much funding the schools will receive.

In the past three years, community colleges have lost about $1 billion (not including de facto cuts from no statutory COLA increases), and there’s a chance that will go even higher before the current school year is out.  Already in 2011-12, community colleges have taken more than half-a-million in reductions.

  • $400 million reduction in general fund apportionments
  • $102 million in mid-year trigger cuts
  • $149 million “February surprise” from lower than expected property taxes and student fee revenues (despite an increase in fees from $26 to $36 per unit)

There’s also a chance they’ll have to eat another $146 million this year if revenue from the dissolution of county redevelopment agencies is lower than the Administration’s estimate.

“I think this represents a very very major challenge for our districts and it’s possible that some would not be able to make it,” said Community College Vice Chancellor of Finance Dan Troy.

Colleges are hoping that Gov. Brown will give some indication of what the rest of this year looks like financially when he releases the May revise budget in about a month.

Next year is a white-knuckle unknown.  If the Governor’s tax initiative passes, $218 million will go toward paying down the community college deferral.  If it fails, the deferral stays and the colleges absorb an additional $30 million in programmatic cuts and, most likely, another mid-year trigger cut.

Enrollment has fallen by 400,000 since the cuts began. (Source:  Community College Chancellor's office). Click to enlarge.
Enrollment has fallen by 400,000 since the cuts began. (Source: Community College Chancellor's office). Click to enlarge.

At a time when more people need postsecondary education to be prepared for the increasingly skilled requirements of decent-paying jobs, these reductions are having the opposite effect.  Community Colleges have lost 400,000 students in four years, falling from a high of 2.8 million to 2.4 million today.

Students are being turned away at Ohlone College in Fremont, the chair of the Board of Trustees told the subcommittee.  “The demand has grown over 44 percent in 15 years, said Greg Bonaccorsi.  But funding cuts forced the school to scale back courses and now “students are being turned away,” said Bonaccorsi.   “It violates the tenet of public education.”

Author: Kathryn Baron

Kathryn Baron, co-writer of TOP-Ed (Thoughts On Public Education in California), has been covering education in California for about 15 years; most of that time at KQED Public Radio where her reports aired on The California Report as well as various National Public Radio programs. She also wrote for magazines and newspapers before going virtual as producer and editor at The George Lucas Educational Foundation. Kathy grew up in New York in a family of teachers. She moved to California for graduate school and after spending one sunny New Year’s Day riding her bicycle in the foothills, decided to stay. She and her husband live in Belmont. They have two children, one in college and one in high school.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *