Community Colleges: Access vs. For Profit


13mncollege2Phoenix My head is spinning.  I simply cannot keep up with the rate of devolution from state to state across the country, and the ways it is either directly or inadvertently benefiting everything for-profit businesses.

Hardly a week ago, we were talking about for profit colleges finally getting off the government teat as the Department of Education finally seemed to seizing some rule making authority to curtail the level of predatory educational pricing implemented by many of these outfits for jobs that are non-existent or low paying.  That was a good thing, given the mountainous levels of student debt sinking so many working families!

Now in California and other states with huge community college systems we’re hearing that the “open access” programs that have fueled their growth and their societal value by advancing educational attainment levels broadly across working families at affordable prices are being restricted because of layoffs and budget cuts leaving students totally in the lurch in an unforgiving economy. This is a very bad thing!!

But, one misfortune is another’s opportunity, so for-profit education shops like Kaplan, Princeton Review, and others are seizing on the cutbacks to compete with the community college mandatory requirements by offering the classes at steep premiums over what the public institutions charge because they are able to engage in predatory pricing with lower income students who are desperate to continue their education and not lose six months or a year twiddling their thumbs and wasting their lives.  The price hikes per course are in the neighborhood of ten times the levels.  This is a ridiculous attack on citizen wealth and opportunity.

Community colleges are huge and invaluable educational institutions that serve low and moderate income students.  Personally I’m a huge fan.  My mother spent 20 years as a teacher and administrator at Delgado Community College, my union has represented workers at these schools in  Louisiana for 25 years now,  and we couldn’t have been prouder of our oldest child when he graduated from the same school and it served so well as a stepping stone for his two years and finally graduation from Rochester Institute of Technology.  But, they are the stepchildren of the educational system partially because their demographic is so clearly the LMI community.  I was stunned recently talking to a friend in New York with a huge non-profit who explained to me that their “sustainability” model was somehow to get community colleges to adopt their program wholesale and finance it as “value-added” for their student body.  I hated to mention that virtually the same day in the hometown paper, The Times-Picayune had reported that 8 campuses might have to be closed and thousands of teachers laid off!  Value added, huh?

We cannot let ourselves be confused about the critical mission of community colleges and allow private for-profits to swoop in and pick the pockets of desperate students saddling them with debt.  We need to make them sustainable with public funds, not stimulus shots, and realistic fees that still allow open access, if we care about democracy, much less the opportunity to build citizen wealth.