Friday Fragments | Confessions of a Community College Dean


At a meeting this week, a colleague noted that the percentage of undergraduates in the U.S. attending community colleges used to be in the high forties, but recently it dropped to the mid-thirties.  I checked later, and she was right.

Given the widespread concern with student loan debt, it’s counterintuitive that more students are fleeing the lower-cost option for higher-cost options. But apparently they are.

My guess is that it’s a function of a few things. One is increased aggressiveness among four-year schools. Many of them are accepting students now they would have turned away a few years ago, and/or giving them much more generous scholarship packages. Another is the disproportionate drop in adult students, which tends to follow the unemployment rate. Community colleges tend to have higher percentages of adult students than four-year schools, so when the adult student population drops, it hits this sector harder.  And in some places, community colleges are either becoming four-year schools (Florida, I’m looking at youuuu…) or being swallowed up by them (Rowan, I’m looking at you…).

Still, such a sharp drop in just a few years was surprising.  Are there any better explanations out there?

I admit doing a double-take on Wednesday when I noticed “marxism” trending on Twitter. Coming on the same day that the Dow dropped 800 points, it raised an eyebrow.

The proximate cause of the trend was a silly piece by David Frum, which was disappointing. The erstwhile political theorist in me would love to see actual discussions of actual ideas in the public sphere.  As our politics get steadily weirder, taking a step back and asking fundamental questions, steeped in the lessons of the past, strikes me as an excellent idea.

For instance, the journalist Heidi Moore posted a terrific explainer thread on just what an “inverted yield curve” is, and why it matters.  It’s an example of what journalism could be: it’s concise, clear, relevant, and helpful, and it assumes that the reader is reasonably intelligent but not an expert in the field.  It respects the reader. The form of a Twitter thread may be relatively new, but the idea of clearly and accessibly explaining complicated ideas to help people understand what’s going on is classic.  It’s heartening to see that some classics still have some life left in them.

I was prepared not to like this idea, based on the headline. But headlines can deceive.

It’s about a program that Massachusetts used to have, in which the state would match private donations to the University of Massachusetts. The idea was to incentivize philanthropic giving. Apparently, while the program existed, it worked pretty well.

I’d support a revised version of that, but aimed at community colleges.

Community colleges have been late to the philanthropic scene.  Despite educating over 30 percent of the undergraduates in the country, they get a single-digit percentage of higher-ed giving.  When you’re underfunded from the outset, that’s a double-whammy.

Matching gifts offer a way for tax-phobic politicians to double their money.  We know that the ROI for community college education is terrific, and that it’s one of the few dependable avenues for social mobility for many lower-income folks who need to live at home.  And we know that donors like to have an impact. Offering to double the impact of a donation, while highlighting the differences such donations could make, could be a real step forward.

Sending all good wishes to my friend Michael Gutierrez, the President of Sacramento City College, who was in a nasty car accident this week. If you know Michael at all, this would be a good time to send positive vibes his way. Knowing him, he’ll have shaken off the injuries by the time this goes to whatever the cyber equivalent of “press” is, but it’s worth a shot anyway.  Get well soon, Michael!



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