Community Colleges: Money and Politics

Given the plethora of links to articles I’ve been receiving lately, it looks like, at least among the education policy community, the Obama administration’s community college summit yesterday is becoming big news.

But just because it’s about education doesn’t mean that the summit, and implied dedication, isn’t also very, very political. As Daniel de Vise pointed out in the Washington Post, President Obama did manage to use the summit as a way to get in a jab at Republicans:

Obama said the signature Republican Pledge to America would cut education funding by one-fifth to fund tax relief for the wealthy, at a time when other nations are padding their investments.

“Think about it: China is not slashing education by 20 percent right now,” he said. He likened the GOP proposal to “unilaterally disarming our troops right as they head to the front lines.”

But then, Obama’s also not planning to provide “the troops” with any more effective weapons. He’s not proposing giving community colleges any more money.

As Wick Sloane wrote in Inside Higher Ed—Sloane’s piece, by the way, is very complete and interesting summary of what actually happened at the summit—something was missing from the discussion:

At the summit, no one I heard asked for the money back. That’s the $12 billion for community colleges that vaporized out of budget legislation this year, shortchanging the nation’s 1,200 community colleges and six million students, half the nation’s undergraduates.

In fact, the only new money introduced was a $35 million private competitive grant announced by the Gates Foundation yesterday. That’s generous but it’s not a national commitment; it’s a kind gesture from the world’s second richest man. That’s probably not going to be enough to make a difference.

Attention and praise is great but something more important is going to have to happen for community colleges to transform America into the most educated nation in the world.

Next steps?

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