Sunday, January 28, 2007

Community Colleges

Well, it’s been ten days since my last post so I thought I should write something -- I tried to make up for the delay with length!

I have chosen to discuss community colleges in this post because it is germane for two reasons. First, this past week was "Higher Education Week" at the Statehouse, which resulted in a lot of discussion on the issue. Second, in the upcoming weeks the House Education Committee will be faced with the important task of helping decide the fate of a potential community college in the Treasure Valley.

As I said, community colleges was one of the main topics of this past week with all of the public post-secondary institution presidents converging on the Statehouse to testify in JFAC and House Committees. What became clear, as the week progressed (I already knew, but it was reinforced) was critical role that community colleges play in education system. The main selling points, if you have yet to be converted, are low cost and high flexibility. These are benefits that can not be attained by what BSU President Bob Kustra referred to as, "senior institutions" for good, bad, or indifferent.

There has been some dissent, however, by certain legislators that a public community college is unnecessary. They first point to the existence of the Treasure Valley Community College in Caldwell -- it is an institution ran by the State of Oregon. Yes, that’s right, OREGON figured out what we needed in the Valley before we did. That is sad. The problem remains however, that as an institution of Oregon, we have no more right to change it than we would a private institution. That's called oversight, and that's one of the primary benefits to a public education system.

The next point that was made was that there are private firms offering education-like courses and they could easily be utilized. There are several things wrong with this beyond the lack of oversight, such as:
  • Quality (ITT and Steven Henagar aren't known for their academic prowess)
  • Cost (these places are much more expensive than a community college)
  • Financial Aid (most of them don't offer it, and if they do, its very restricted)
  • Transferability (because they lack quality, a respectable four year institution will not transfer the credits earned at these places)
  • Leakage (because they don't transfer, their is no incentive to stay in Idaho)

The point is, no solution outside of a community college will work (I am not going to address the “community college services” argument made by ISU President Vailas). So what is the solution, or rather, how do we get there? Well, in my mind a potential solution needs to incorporate at least a few things.

  1. Reduce the majority needed to pass the community college taxing district from 66% to at most 60% (originally the threshold was only a simple majority).
  2. Ensure local control to allow the institution to be flexible and responsive.
  3. Provide state, local, and private funding to get “buy-in” from all that will benefit from the community college.
  4. State funding must also be set as a scale to the so-called “full-time equivalent headcount.” This ensures that as the college grows (or shrinks) the state funding will do the same.

I could go on forever on this, but I’d rather have you read the whole thing so I’ll stop here. Please let me know what you think!


5886592 said...
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Adam Graham said...

As you know, I'm a Republican, Branden but I strongly agree with the need for Community Colleges. I agree, in part because I'm a Community College alum. graduating with my AA from Flathead Valley Community College. I actually paid all tuition, fees, and books with Pell Grant for my first year and then an academic scholarship for the second year. It gave me and many other people the opportunity to get into college in an open admissions system.

I'll attest to the benefits they offered for me personally. To what, you've already enumerated, I'd add the following:

1) It's a Benefit to Home Schoolers-

Many home schoolers and those who finish High Schoolers ahead of time would benefit. I finished High School at age 15 through home schooling and living in the tiny town of Eureka, Montana there was no community college around.

2) It's a long-term cost-saver:

It saves the government money several different ways includings when job retraining becomes necessary. Having a Community College cuts cost v. the university.

3) It Will Give Access to a More Diverse Faculty

My observation from going to a Community College is that they open the door to people who wouldn't normally end up at a University. Two examples include one woman who wanted to have a family. This can be quite incompatible with a University Professor's schedule, demands of Publish or Perish, but at our Community College, she was able to come, be an excellent teacher, and eventually become head of the science department.

The best instructor I had there was a woman who went back to college in her 50s, received her Master's Degree and became involved in English and Communications. She took over as advisor for the Student newspaper with real life experience in nearly every media, especially advertising.

Now, as to your proposals, I would agree with all of them, but one I would agree with Governor Otter more on.

"Reduce the majority needed to pass the community college taxing district from 66% to at most 60% (originally the threshold was only a simple majority)."

Governor Otter is right that any election to do this should be at the general or primary elections. It is not the Spirit of democratic government to have elections that are called and unfamiliar and unusual times. It makes a mockery of our system of government to say that a bare majority of who shows up for a special election in the middle of July in a barely discussed campaign.

A community college is a community project and we have to decide it together. I think the people of Ada County, Canyon County, etc. are reasonable people and we all ought to make up our minds together at the normal voting time.

But other than that, I think you have an excellent plan.

Adam Graham said...

Rep. Durst,

Reviewing your piece to post my own at my blog, I came across something troubling. Your statements on ITT and Stevens-Henager caused some concern.

As I wrote about in my Piece, I agree that these institutions can't do the job of Community Colleges, because it's not their function.

Stevens-Henager is not set up for young low income high school graduates who'd like a chance at a college education or even adults who plan a higher academic career. It's a career college where the degree and the ability to advance the career is the goal, not going on for higher degrees. While I understand your opinion of the academics of the school as someone studying for a Masters Degree, the way you've denigrated the quality of Stevens-Henager and ITT cast aspursions on the intructors and students of these institutions, many of whom no doubt live in the 18th district. I think the point you made could be done without needlessly attacking and alienating people affiliated with these institutions.

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