By the time I went to a four-year college, I had almost an entire year of academic credits behind me – thanks to classes I took at community college. Community college gave me a running start on my education, while not dipping too much into my college savings or scholarship money. Community colleges have long been the path for thousands of students who either don’t have the grades or the funding to get into four-year schools.
This school year, tuition at community colleges will increase to $72 for in-state students, and $264 for non-residents to offset the added cost of increased teacher salaries and other needs. Tuition also increased last year; community college tuition appears to be a popular financial “well” to dip into.
The NC Budget and Tax Center finds that funding for community colleges is down by a little more than 1% from pre-recession levels in 2008.
It seems like the easy way out, to pass the burden of expenses onto students and their parents, instead of finding money within the budget. Students already have insurmountable debt in some cases when they graduate, and as we detailed in a previous post, they often have trouble paying off those student loans because of the meager salaries offered.
Further complicating matters for NC community college students is the fact that more than half– 39 out of 58– of the colleges in our state have stopped offering some federal student loans. Colleges cite reasons for ending these loans as concern over student’s financial wellbeing and the need to protect other federal aid.
A report by the Institute for College Access and Success found that about 36% of North Carolina’s community college students lacked access to federal direct student loans last year, making our students the fourth most disadvantaged in the country. The research also found that African American, Hispanic, and Native American students are disproportionately impacted by the lack of loan availability.
If we’re raising tuition for community college students, and eliminating sources of funding for them to get their degrees, how can we expect people to increase their earning power? According to data from the College Board, an Associate degree can increase an employee’s lifetime earnings by 27%, compared to an employee with a High School degree.
I can use my four-year Bachelor’s degree to understand that it’s all connected. If people can’t find the means to increase their education level to increase their salary, it will fall back on all of us. What blows my mind is that our lawmakers can’t seem to understand the circular nature of public education. It’s that old “pay now or pay later” fact of life. Ignore the roof leak and don’t get it fixed, and eventually the whole roof will cave in on you.