Do American community colleges really face an unfunded mandate? According to an article by David Moltz in Inside Higher Ed:

Last month, at the annual convention of the American Association of Community Colleges, six of the sector’s leading education and policy organizations signed… a commitment to improve student completion rates by 50 percent over the next decade.

Upon hearing of the pledge at the convention, Ron Wright, chancellor of Delgado Community College, in New Orleans, had the same response as many of his colleagues.

“How in the world are we going to be able to do this without any new resources in the system?”

Technically the pledge doesn’t really constitute an unfunded mandate. Those are regulations that impose costs on institutions for which they don’t get any money. It appears the pledge is voluntary; it’s not like community colleges will really be punished for not improving completion rates.

Still, policymakers spend a lot of time talking about the importance of community college without really considering what community colleges might need in order to be effective.

One of the troubles might well be that, though Obama’s American Graduation Initiative didn’t actually end up getting community colleges much money, people still talk about America becoming a world leader in college graduates by 2020, as if that’s a real goal of the Obama administration. There’s no way that’s going to happen if community colleges continue to operate the way they do now.

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