New report says California #1 in community college spending

A new report by the American Institute for Research, titled “The Hidden Costs of Community Colleges,” found that California is ranked number one in statewide cost of attrition based on first-year drop-out rates. The report concludes that over five years, the U.S. spent an estimated $4 billion in federal, state, and local funds on full-time students who failed to complete a certificate or degree.

In California alone, taxpayers spent $130 million dollars on these students in the 2008-2009 academic year, and an estimated $24 million to provide them with federal student aid.

Texas, second in that category, spent $60 million, or less than half of California’s spending.

Students who enter into community college typically expect to earn an associate degree or a certificate, but about a fifth of them do not return for their second year.

Still, there is an ongoing debate about why students are unable to succeed at these institutions.

Mark Schneider, the research institute’s vice president, believes it’s the job of the college to improve its students’ success rate.

“We have to figure out what colleges are doing wrong,” says Schneider. “And we have to find ways to help students finish their degrees.”

Schneider feels that if students have paid tuition and invested their time in a degree, they should be given every opportunity to see its completion.

According to, Santa Monica College falls fourth in first-year attrition cost behind Pasadena, Riverside, and Fresno community colleges.

This study also estimates that 23 percent of first-year SMC students on a degree track do not return after their first year.

College measure indicates that a total of $4 million was spent on these SMC students from 2004 through 2009.

Of that $4 million, $3 million was spent in the form of state appropriations and almost $1 million in student grants.

The report takes into account that most students transfer to a four-year university, and that they are not included in these figures.

Schneider suggests that incentive funding might improve the quality of education at community colleges.

“If a college does a good job, they should be rewarded with more money,” Schneider says. “And they should be penalized for doing a bad job.”

The report explains that there is a debate about why community colleges have such low success rates. One explanation is that with students’ numbers increasing, it becomes hard to meet their individual needs.

Based on how many students annually, there are not enough teachers and classes to accommodate this varied student body.

Many students are not getting into their classes and it takes them longer to earn their credentials.

“Time is the enemy here—the longer students hang around, the more problems they face,” Schneider says. “A lot of this has to do with scheduling conflicts.” Many students have difficulty finding classes that fit their schedules, especially when they have jobs, families, or other responsibilities to attend to.

The struggle to create efficient community colleges continues, as evident by a statewide task force that held its first town hall meeting last week at the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce.

At this meeting, they presented an overview of recommendations they plan to submit to the California Community Colleges’ Board of Governors, that includes prioritizing registration, tightening the criteria for fee waivers, and issuing performance score cards in areas such as completion rates.