Community Colleges Score a $12 Billion Dollar Bribe

If you are an adjunct at a community college, you teach in a system that has come to rely increasingly on faculty off the tenure-track. At the moment, nationally, about 70 percent of faculty employed at community colleges teach off the tenure-track. You also teach in a system with one of the most abysmal rates of student graduation. In some state community college systems, less than 20 percent of students graduate within three years. It’s enough to give heartburn to anyone concerned about post-secondary education in the United States. However, I’m not sure there are enough community college administrators losing sleep over the low graduation rates at their institutions. If there were, we would have long ago had some very frank discussions about reforms of the community college system in our country.

Now, President Obama’s plan to funnel 12 billion dollars to the nation’s community colleges to foster their “mission,” is making headlines. He’s calling it the “American Graduation Initiative.” In a move that is no surprise on August 14th, the New York Times reported that Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he would allocate $50 million dollars to New York’s community colleges if elected to a third term. Is this just throwing money into a hole and setting it on fire? David Brooks, in a July 2009 op-ed piece, argues that Obama’s plan will tie the billions to necessary reforms. Brooks also writes, “four-year colleges receive three times as much federal money per student as community colleges. According to a Brookings Institution report, federal spending for community colleges fell six percent between 2002 and 2005, while spending on four-year colleges increased.”

My Aunt told me a story not too long ago when we were talking about how to best motivate kids to get good grades in school. She told me that one of my cousins had asked how much money she was going to give him if he brought home a reportcard with good grades. Her reply was simple and direct: he was not getting good grades for her, but rather for himself. I think about her as President Obama plans to give 12 billion dollars to the community college system in our country, and tells us that the money won’t be wasted because it’s tied to “reforms.”

I have just one question: why does the community college system in our country need a $12 billion dollar bribe in order to carry out reforms necessary to improve graduation rates industry-wide? Shouldn’t the community college system simply be required to carry out the necessary reforms and improve overall graduation rates? After all, aren’t students supposed to graduate?

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