Thursday, October 8, 2009

Workforce Training: Community College Bond Funding Crowds Out For-Profits?

According to Inside Higher Ed, an economist has just published a study that tests the hypothesis that local bond measures improve public awareness about community colleges' workforce education options and shift students away from for-profit vocational schools. Published in a new academic journal edited by U.C. Berkeley economist Alan Auerbach, American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, the article examined the relation between California bond measures and enrollment patterns at the state's 109 community colleges and the for-profit vocational schools in their vicinity. The author, Stephanie Riegg Cellini, a recent UCLA doctoral graduate, wrote in her article that a policy implication of her findings might be, for example, to have legislators consider the fate of both community college and for-profit institutions. One idea, she wrote, was for legislators to emphasize "transfer only" in community colleges and cede the "workforce training market" to the for-profit schools to increase economic efficiency, which focuses on improving market forces to ensure the greatest number of buyers and sellers can be matched. She makes the case that offering workforce courses in community colleges may be diluting their capacity to support transfer, as only 4% of students do transfer to 4-year colleges each year. Increasing transfer can lower costs for higher education at the public level since it is substantially cheaper to support students in the community college than the 4-year college. In California, a community college charges one of the lowest tuition rates for education in the nation, about $330 per year even though the actual per-student cost for education is about $4,419. It costs about $10,078 a year to support a student in the California State University system. By contrast, the for-profit institutions charge between $3,000 and $10,000 for tuition, and have much smaller campuses. Students going to for-profit institutions can obtain support for their studies from federal grant and school loan programs. Financial support for the study came from the UCLA Center on Education Policy and Evaluation and the ASHE/Lumina Foundation for Education Dissertation Fellowship.

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