Community College, Probably Not Enough

Does the United States place to much responsibility on community colleges? The New America Foundation’s Higher Ed Watch takes on this question with a guest post by Katie Haycock, president of the Education Trust and also the author of a January report blasting state universities for being overpriced and difficult for working-class Americans to access. Haycock finds it disturbing that for some reason community colleges have seemingly become the primary way low-income Americans access higher education. As she writes:

The logic, of course, is seductive. Students can start in a two-year college and earn a certificate or degree there, or they can continue their education in a four-year college. Because community colleges cost less, students end up with less debt. And because state subsidies per student are lower in community colleges, these institutions could increase degree attainment at less cost to taxpayers.

But just because “that’s where the low-income and minority students are,” doesn’t mean they are where they should be. Unless we want only privileged students to have unfettered access to the bachelor’s and advanced degrees that equip them for high-level positions, we need to be very careful about anything that would further increase stratification in our already horribly stratified system.

It can’t all be done by the community colleges. Community colleges represent only an access point, and not a very effective one one at that. If we really want to dramatically increase the number of people who go to college, we’ve got to consider more serious changes.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer