Issues facing the community colleges in crisis


As stated in (Kanter, 2010) "President Kennedy noted that the Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word 'crisis.' One brush stroke stands for 'danger' the other for 'opportunity.' In a crisis be aware of the danger but recognize the opportunity." This sums up where higher education funding is at this moment. It is in danger but it also has an extraordinary opportunity. As lawmakers slice into the higher education budget the cuts become permanent. When the tough times pass, the money usually does not return. As state and local funding for higher education dwindles away year by year thus creating a crisis, not only for the community colleges but also for the students with rising tuitions to offset the budget cuts, there is an opportunity for community colleges to tap into new funding sources, such as corporate partnerships and create a financial cushion against the highs and lows of state funding. The question is then, should Community Colleges seek partnerships with corporations and local businesses as an alternative source of funding because the difficult economic times and continuing budget cuts?

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In the first decades of this century, most public two year colleges were extensions of local secondary schools and received limited state dollars and operated under minimum state statutes and regulations, then in the mid 1970's state funds were increased along with increased state control. According to (Mullin, 2007) " during the first half of the 20th century, higher education was funded on the basis of allowable tuition and simple allocations of state aid that were based primarily on budget requests from individual institutions." (P. 113). Due to growth and program diversification, it was not long before many states were using formulas for budgeting and resource allocations. In Texas the legislature appropriates state funds based on the community and technical college funding formula. When these funds fall short, the community college boards raise local funds through tuition, fees, and property taxes.

Reasons to Create Partnerships

During the span of 1984 to 2000, the state's share of community college funding decreased from 60 percent to 39 percent, (THECB). As stated in the Texas Association of Community Colleges resource guide online, "when the community and technical college formula was developed at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the responsibilities of the state and local college district were clearly identified. The state would assume the responsibility for instruction costs. College districts were 'to use local tax funds and tuition for construction and operation of physical plants and maintenance of facilities'." This doesn't appear to be the case today. As shown in the Texas Association of Community Colleges resource guide, even though the revenue per contact hour has increased over the past nine years, when adjusted for inflation the formula appropriations has decreased 15.6 percent while tuition and fees have increased by 37.3 percent and property taxes have also increased by 53.2 percent. Texas is not the only state where the higher education system is taking a hit. According to (Jacobson, 2008), republicans in Arizona recommended a $36 million cut in funding, Kentucky Governor recommended a $12 million cut in funding, and Nevada more than $57 million, just to name just a few. Community colleges have always responded to budget cuts by reducing cost, replacing full-time faculty with adjuncts, increasing class size, and raising tuition. If that was not enough to bridge the gap, programs began being cut. According to (Ehrenberg, 2006) "Following the Reagan revolution in the 1980s, which reduced the value of the state income tax deduction on federal income tax returns, tax payers clamored for state income tax cuts. But since then, increased state funding, needs for Medicaid, elementary and secondary education, and the criminal justice system have put increasing pressure on the state tax revenues. There simply have not been sufficient revenues available to generously fund higher education." (P.47) These measures can be counterproductive to the purpose of higher education especially today when we need an educated workforce. Higher education institutions go through cycles of experiencing budget cuts and then raising tuition to maintain their programs. The people who feel it the most are the lower-income students, those who are on the brink of going to college. Higher tuition rates could make the difference in whether or not many of these students attend college or take a different path and join the workforce, with little or no work skills, at a low paying job, with the constant rise in tuition essentially locking them out of an education. According to (Higdon, 2003) we need an educated workforce that can handle increasingly complex business and social problems; right now 80 percent of the workforce is educated in public institutions. As stated by (Kanter, 2010) by 2016 four of every 10 new jobs will require some advanced education or training. Many of these jobs will have an emphasis on technology or be in the medical field. The number of jobs that require post secondary education has doubled since 1970. If we stay on these paths, our students will not be able to compete because they will not be able to afford an education. Now is the time to make a change in the funding sources for the Community Colleges.

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According to Webster's online dictionary, "Community College" is defined as "a 2-year government supported college that offers an associate degree". This definition is dated 1948. It is not only inaccurate, as Community Colleges offer far more than just associate degrees but it is obviously outdated, as the support from the government has dwindled substantially. The mission of many community colleges is to provide: (a) general and liberal education, (b) career and vocational education, and (c) adult and continuing education. Many times the career and vocational education along with the adult and continuing education are programs customized toward the community in which the community college is located. Many times these are the programs that are cut when the money fall short. Would it not make sense then for these community colleges to partner with the local businesses?

While researching community colleges that have partnered with businesses it was discovered that this idea is not entirely new. According to (Kisker, 2003), "in 1990, less than half of the nation's community colleges offered training programs in conjunction with local businesses. By the mid 1990's roughly 90% of two year colleges had joined the business of training workers for specific companies, rather than just teaching the generic subjects and trades." This was about the same time that the Workforce Investment Act was passed, which reformed federal employment, training, adult education, and vocational rehabilitation programs by creating an integrated "one-stop" system of workforce investment and education services for adults, dislocated workers, and youth.

Providing education, training, and retraining for the workforce has remained the primary component in the community college mission. The future for community colleges will involve training and retraining hundreds of thousands of people in order to address a shortfall in the supply of qualified workers. As stated by (Brooks, 1997) "Campus facilities that housed furniture woodworking and power machine sewing classes in the 1960s now provide instructional space for manufacturing technology and other high-technology programs". As the states resources become more limited, questions arise as to the role that community colleges will play in the workforce development. The Community College, with its flexible and accessible short courses, certificate programs, associate degree programs and innovative programs directed to new and expanding industries is ideally suited for workforce development. Most important within this endeavor is that the Community College should not lose sight of its mission with respect to labor and the economy. Given the opportunity, Community Colleges could offer the solution to business's labor-supply problem and help with the ever evolving labor requirements that are related to technology and medical services.

According to (Kisker, 2003) several factors have contributed to the recent popularity of two-year college partnerships with the private sector, one being the recent economic recession, and another being evolving labor requirements, especially in high technology and medical areas. According to (Green, 2006), the American Association of Community Colleges estimate that more than half of new health care workers get their training at community colleges. "In 2003, 62 percent of the applicants who took the national exam to become licensed registered nurses were graduates of such programs".

Community colleges excel at working with local businesses to identify specific needs, whether it is helping displaced workers gain new job skills or helping local companies ensure they will have a steady supply of skilled workers. If there is a large manufacturing plant in the same city as a community college, chances are that the community college offers technical training in conjunction with the plant. Better skills and better pay lead to happier and more production employees, which in turn boosts the economy.

Through partnerships with both small and mid-sized businesses, community colleges have been very successful in helping high technology and other areas, grow and become more competitive. Private sector partnerships enable community colleges to create academic and technical training that responds to the high technological labor needs in the community. As stated by (Kisker, 2003), "The basic mission of the community college is to meet the local educational needs within the community. In providing teaching, training, personnel, and facilities to meet the needs of local businesses, government agencies, and industry, all participants can benefit".

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As stated above, the recent economic slowdown, evolving labor requirements, the need to provide state of the art curriculum, and a desire to respond to local demands have greatly aided the community college partnerships with the private sector to grow in importance and lead to new sources of revenue. This arrangement has also helped to infuse state of the art technology and modern business practices into the community college facilities and programs while providing local businesses with a skilled labor force.

There have been several different approaches to Community Colleges and business creating partnerships. For instance, the President of Lincoln Land Community College looked into creating a partnership with local hospitals and medical centers that regularly rely on colleges assistance to help alleviate the shortage of allied health workers, in exchange, the local hospitals and medical centers would help pay the instructors salaries. Lincoln Land Community College is also looking at contracts for training state workers. This would help cover some of the cost of and provide some sort of relief for the operating budget. (Jamilah, 2004) These sorts of partnerships are what are needed in order to keep the door of the Community Colleges open to all students and tuition at an affordable rate. This Community College responding to the community needs.

Another example is that of Coastline Community College, after looking at their own management capabilities they decided to bid to run Orange County's One Stop Center. This is a facility that coordinates federal, state, and local efforts to help match employer and displaced workers. Essentially this was a competitor of the programs offered at the community college. Not only did Coastline Community College place and win this bid, they also went after a contract to manage the U.S. Navy's college programs, which would have the community college processing things such as registration for classes, they won this bid as well. Coastline gets more than 30 percent of its operating budget from sources other than state appropriations and tuition. (Jamilah, 2004)

Another type of partnership that was brought to light is with the Central Piedmont Community College, the college was asking local business to sponsor a part time instructor for a three credit course. This essentially was a donation of $1650, which was the cost of hiring the instructor. The Community College got nine businesses to get on board with this program and the schools foundation had plans of calling 800 local businesses to ask for additional sponsorship. The local businesses view the Community College is an important local resource. (Erika, 2002).

One type of partnership that, according to (Erika, 2002) have been growing in recent years and are expected to become even more important are the long term partnerships such as the one between Miami Dade Community College and the South Florida Center for Financial Training. The center recently renewed its 20 year partnership, with the college, which helps train employees for the regions financial institutions which delivers job specific skills and knowledge to the financial service industry. The courses offered are college level and are available in the traditional classroom, online and self-study formats. Most of these courses can also be brought on site to the financial institution.

An interesting arrangement that was discovered with the Iowa Lakes Community College was their way of responding to the need for wind energy technicians. According to (Mohni, 2007) the College structured a Wind-Energy and Turbine Program in response to an overwhelming demand in this industry. As a result employers are clamoring for the newly qualified students. He sophomores participated in a paid internship and all these students were extended employment offers. Not only has the industry plucked the students up, they have also opened up their facilities for the students to learn in. Through collaborative partnerships, an industry-driven, research based, comprehensive alternative energy career pathway, replicable on a national level has been established and this program responds to national energy priorities.

Several different types of partnerships are discussed by (Erika, 2002) which involve companies providing funds to the community college to develop customized technology curricula. At the same time the company assists the colleges to build and stock computer facilities that they may not have otherwise afforded. Another program was developed to benefit both the local hospitals and the community college. High technology is not the only sector looking to community colleges to help fill the gaps. Hospitals are relying on schools to train future generations of nurses in order to ease the shortage. The program that was developed, according to (Erika, 2002) in which the school officials raised almost $300,000 from the local hospitals that was then used to create scholarships for student so they could attend school and not worry about holding down a job at the same time, thus lowering the attrition rate. The monies raised not only created 43 scholarships, it also assisted with the cost associated with living expenses for students, faculty salaries and new classrooms.

The most common type of Community College and Business partnerships that was discovered is when the community colleges offer contract services such as training or accelerated degree programs for employees of certain businesses. This enables the business to secure the services of the Community College at a lower cost than going through a consultant, a business vendor or providing them in house and this arrangement brings much needed revenue to the Community College. This is a win-win situation, the community college is gaining revenue and the business is gaining a better educated and a more highly skilled work force. Another great benefit of this arrangement is the relationship the community college and the business form. The community college is able to establish a relationship with the human resources personnel, which could lead to greater job opportunities for the college's graduates and alumni.

An example of this type partnering was found with Southeastern Community College in North Carolina. With enrollments down and very few partnerships the college began to push to promote growth in both the college and the community. According to (Kisker, 2003) the school approached local businesses and companies that were considering relocating to the area. The school then offered, after the necessary research, the companies customized packages which included workforce and skills training, technical relocation support, ongoing skills upgrading, and general consulting. Another college that has also built successful worker training programs is the Columbus State Community College in Ohio. As stated by (Kisker, 2003), Columbus State Community College provides customized training to over 4,000 employees at around sixty different companies. Their success can be attributed to the president and academic departments support, the professional and high trained staff and a variety of services, which includes credit and non-credit courses, traditional and nontraditional courses, and the offering of courses at a variety of training locations.

Another approach to alternative funding is through revenue diversification. This approach involves the college in commercial activities that are undertaken in order to support educational programs and services. These types of activities might include taking advantage of the physical assets in which they posses, this may include renting out a ballroom or conference rooms for use by local businesses. Also included are identifying different areas of retail sales on campus such as the bookstore, photocopy machines, etc.

Another recent approach to partnerships between Community College and private foundations is in the area of student housing. Typically, most community colleges have owned and operated their own residence halls. The residence halls have always been a place to sleep; it also provided a desk for studying, and a dining hall within the same building or nearby for meals offered at specific times only, throughout the day. Additional housing is needed with the growth in the numbers of students that are now enrolling. With the funding for higher education becoming increasingly scarce, this has certainly impacted the housing construction. According to (Bekurs, 2007), the last real public financial support for student housing construction came in the form of matching grants in the 1960s and 1970s. With many institutions struggling to meet the student's needs, and states becoming less likely to fund housing construction, the institutions have to find new and creative ways to finance these projects. "Many institutions are turning to the tax-exempt corporate model of financing. In this situation the institutions leases land to a tax-exempt corporation, the developer constructs the new housing facility on the land using tax-exempt, low-interest loans and the new facility is managed either by the institution or private management company. Any profits from the housing facility are returned to the institutions to pay for the ground lease." (P.628),

New housing is needed not only because of the increased enrollments but also because the student needs have changed since the 1960s and 1970s. Many of the undergraduates having never shared a bedroom or bathroom prior to coming to college want their own space. They want their own things and their own spaces, they are use to leading extremely busy academic, extracurricular, and social lives which means they come and go at all hours of the day and night. This changing picture of the students and their new level of expectations, have the institutions responding in order to compete for new students. A new practice of having fully privatized arrangements began increasing in the 1990s. More recently apartments have been being constructed completely financed by a private developer on leased land by the institutions.

Strategies for Successful Partnerships

In order to have successful partnerships there are several elements that must be considered. Before the community college can partner with a local business and offer contract services such as training or accelerated degree programs for employees, there should be the existence of community needs and opportunities. The existence of community needs and opportunities can be seen with rising unemployment rates or the entrance of new local businesses in the area. It is also important for the community colleges and local business leaders to communicate with each other and identify common interests and needs or concerns within the community that can be addressed.

Another critical element of a successful partnership is shared mission and goals. Although the diversity and depth of the mission in any community are significant, so is the overlap between them, as stated by (Kisker, 2003), "it is within this overlapping interest that the most promising seeds of successful partnerships are often found".

The creation of 'benefit' and value for all partners is another element for a successful partnership. Collaborative initiatives between these two entities must generate tangible economic or political benefits for all involved. Community colleges seeking to embark on collaborative initiatives with the private sector must develop project proposals that clearly outline the benefits to be gained by all participants - the community, the business and the college.

Another critical element of a successful partnership is the establishment of shared governance and accountability. Accountability is the responsibility for certain actions that must be reported back to a person or persons. The sources of tension between partners can come from such areas as the hiring practices, the staffing matters, compensation, and the day to day operations. One effective means of resolving these management issues is to create a governance structure or board that ensures all partners have an equal representation in matters of both daily and long term consequence.


For building successful partners between the community colleges and the private sectors, the creation of value and benefit for all must be identified as key strategies. In these partnerships, the benefits are enjoyed by three distinct entities, the Community College, the Business, and the Students who are participating in the programs.

Economic growth, labor force development, and curricular innovation make up the benefits and the gains of institutional research and program evaluation efforts. From the business view, the economic benefits associated with partnering with the community college include increased gains in competitiveness and industrial modernization, an increase in the productivity of the existing business and opportunities to attract new businesses to the area. While increased financial and capital resources are important outcomes that are associated with these partnerships, the community college also gains considerable curricular and instructional benefits that actively boost student learning. Community College and private sector partnerships are an important source of innovative curricula with benefits that extend beyond the bottom line of maximizing profit; these partnerships have made definite improvements in the lives or each of the students.

An example that was mentioned in Kisker's article is that one of the primary functions of Southeastern Community College's Business and Industry Skills Training Center is the recruitment and retention of new industry to the coastal-plains of North Carolina. These recruitment initiatives include the development of customized relocation and training packages designed to offer businesses tangible incentives to move into the region. The recruitment and retention of these new industries is a source of significant regional growth resulting in $30 million in local investments and the creation of 200 jobs. Not only are the community college partnerships working to increase the economy by attracting new businesses to the area, they are also working to increase the profits of existing local businesses with the availability of retraining current workers to meet new demands. The growth of community college and industry partnerships has resulted in the community college acquiring state of the art equipment and software that is utilized to expand the educational offerings,


Along with the many benefits to community college partnerships with businesses, there are also a variety of challenges that are obvious in creating and maintaining these relationships. As stated earlier, the sources of tension between partners can come from such areas as the hiring practices, the staffing matters, compensation, and the day to day operations. One of the biggest challenges comes from the instability of funding for the programs, because community colleges lean more toward cutting auxiliary programs rather than cutting from their core academic mission. So financial backing for the community college partnerships with local businesses is, at times, at risk if the business is not financing the programs through partnerships. In addition to the deficiency of financial resources, these partnerships between community colleges and the private sector face human resource related problems. In order to provide adequate workforce or contract training courses that meet the needs of the local businesses, the community college must be able to staff the programs quickly and, at times they can run into problems when the experienced instructors that are not available at the desired time or dates.

Other challenges can emerge when the community college and the private sector business have opposing organizational missions or administrative styles. In order to be successful, businesses must respond to the market place and hire an employee who possess the high-demand qualities and skills. Institutions are much less responsive to the market with the faculty in control of their course structure and academic freedom, with many unwilling to allow the businesses to dictate course content or instructional style. Then there are those professors that view vocational and workforce training as an intrusion into the educational institution and there is also the concern about losing the identity of the community college in the delivery of the service. In order to meet in the middle both parties must work together to integrate the opposing missions and cultures in order for all objectives and expectations to be met. According to (Kirsk, 2003) partnerships should explore options that include providing training at the worksite, scheduling training to fit preexisting worker schedules, to include all shifts, survey the workers as to what would be the best available time for training and delivering training in small groups.


When faced with a crisis, it is imperative that one seeks the opportunity that may also be presenting itself. With the ever changing and unstable State as a funding source is it apparent that the time is now to look ahead to secure a new and stable future and provide access to education at an affordable rate so all students can have the opportunity of an education. Along with providing a general liberal education, Partnering with businesses in order to provide education, training, and retraining for the workforce needs to remain one of the top primary components in the community college mission. With more than half of new health care workers being trained at community colleges, this should also remain one of the primary components, along with the specialized academic and technical training that responds to the high technological labor needs in the communities. Continuing to partner with the private sector and enable community colleges to create academic and technical training that responds directly to the high technological labor needs in the community is also an important mission. Community Colleges should continue delving into new and challenging training adventures with the private sector and continue to provide customizable programs geared at training the workforce with skills that are essential in the times of high technological needs. Whether this is through flexible and accessible short courses, certificate programs, associate degree programs or innovative programs directed at the new and expanding industries, and ensuring these programs are funded regardless of the level of state funding that is available.

Community Colleges need to get to a point where there are a variety of means available to generate several million dollars of revenue through nontraditional sources and to some extent start thinking like the private sector. The community college that is seen as a valued partner with the business community will be in a better position to turn to those businesses for support in times of economic troubles. Community Colleges today, must be immersed in the business world as a partner and a friend. This is the direction higher education must take in order to survive.