California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott says Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to change the way community colleges are funded is "not a good idea," and that he will try to convince the Legislature to amend it.
Scott told California Watch that Brown's proposal would unfairly punish colleges with high enrollments of "vulnerable students," and reward colleges serving students in high-income suburban areas who are more likely to succeed.
California's 112 community colleges receive funding based on the number of students who are in class on "Census Day," typically the first day of the fourth week of classes. The college continues receive funds, regardless of how many students drop out or fail to complete the class by the end of the semester.
In his budget message, Brown said:
This policy provides an incentive for colleges to take advantage of the system to maximize funding which also distorts the overall (full-time student) workload completed by the colleges. In effect, colleges are being funded for a higher level of students than actually attend courses.
"We are anxious to improve our success rate," Scott said. To that end, he has appointed a 21-person Student Success Task Force [PDF] that meets for the first time today. It is charged with coming back in a year with a number of recommendations, including "identifying national funding models to incentivize completion rates."
Scott said that the Brown proposal to change the community college funding formula "could have unfortunate consequences that no one has thought through carefully."
Scott said the community colleges could live with another controversial Brown proposal to increase community college fees from $26 to $36 a unit, even though he would have liked to see "not quite as sharp an increase."
But he said basing funding based more on completion than on attendance could have unintended consequences. For example, a college might be tempted to offer class which had high completion rates, while dropping tougher classes which had lower completion rates.
Instructors might also be tempted to keep a student in class and to give him or her a passing grade with an eye on the funding the student brings, even if it was clear the student was not able to handle the course work.
Scott said that expecting community colleges to have the same level of completion as more selective California colleges is unrealistic. "The state of California tells us to accept every high school graduate and says to UC, 'All you have to do is take the top 12.5 percent,'" he said. "That is not a level playing field."
The larger issue, he said, is that Brown's budget calls for $290 million less in funding than the system is getting this year, even taking the fee increase into account. Just about the only option will be to further cut course offerings. "We are going to bring out these issues when we get to the Legislature," he said. "We are not going to stand idly by and say, 'We are going to educate a lot more students with a lot less money.'''
Michele Siqueiros, executive director of the Campaign for College Opportunity, an advocacy organization, noted that Brown's budget does not provide a prescription for how the funding changes would be implemented, and that his intent is clearly that key stakeholders work together to come up with a plan they can agree on.
"He is not spelling out the formula; he says course completion has to matter, and that everyone has to come to the table to figure out a formula to assure completion," said Siqueiros.