Friday, November 07, 2008

 

Tax Credits? Hmm...

According to IHE, President-elect Obama has supported a fully refundable tax credit of $4000 for the first two years of college. Whether this (or anything akin to it) has a chance of seeing the light of day is another question, but it's a neat idea to bat around.

There's an obvious surface-level appeal for cc's, since that would cover the entire cost of tuition and fees for a full-time student for two years at most cc's. In fact, cc's with costs well below that might think about raising the tuition and fees to $4k, lest they leave money on the table. (The usual argument against significant tuition/fee hikes is 'access,' but this would make that argument largely moot.) The really savvy ones would contract with textbook-rental firms for fixed rates, which could then be included in the $4k total.

I'll admit that with the state funding crisis we're weathering now, the prospect of a large, no-strings infusion of cash is very, very attractive. No sense in denying that. And the public recognition that cc's are viable for transfer, as well as for workforce development or job retraining, is more than welcome. Let's drop the '13th grade' stigma and trumpet the fact that many of our grads go on to get advanced degrees. Yes, yes, yes.

But still...

How do we define 'the first two years of college'? What if the student attends part-time? What about remediation? How about students who did a semester after high school, dropped out, lived life for a while, and returned in their thirties? (We get a significant number of those.) What about non-degree programs? Non-accredited trade schools? Non-credit workforce development? Summer overloads? Dual enrollment in high schools?

And what about those pesky four-year schools? Wouldn't they just raise their tuition by another, say, $4k? After all, if you're already charging 50, what's 54?

If we're really serious about helping people afford colleges that are worth attending, I have a slightly different proposal. It gets around all those annoying 'definitional' issues, and it emphasizes quality as well as quantity.

Drum roll, please...

Parity.

Just parity. That's all.

Make it a national policy that community colleges get the same per-student funding as four-year public colleges.

Give us the sustained, predictable, ongoing operating support, and we'll give you both access and quality. And if we don't, based on relevant measures after a decent interval, then by all means, move those resources elsewhere.

Since we don't do the lavish student centers, the over-the-top athletic programs, the climbing walls, or the various concierge services of the four-year schools, we can devote all that funding to stuff like financial aid, tutoring services, and onsite childcare. We could actually reverse the all-adjunct, all-the-time trend, and provide students with professors who actually have the time to talk to them outside of class. Hell, if we got really ambitious, maybe we could even fund some joint projects with the local high schools to try to get the high school curricula in some vague alignment with college entrance requirements in basic skills areas, like writing and math. If all goes well, in a few years we might not even need to remediate quite so much, since more students will have learned it the first time.

Making cc's both excellent and affordable would achieve far more than would allowing the Swarthmores of the world to bump up tuition another five percent.

Just a thought. And an admittedly imperfect one. But it's honestly refreshing to be able to think along these lines, rather than just “what should we cut this time?”

That's the change we need. Welcome, President Obama.

Comments:
I think one of the things about "access" is that right now there are countless parents, who although they'll be able to send their kids to a CC, are really dreaming about sending them to a big lush campus where all the rich people stay ahead of everyone else.

Everyone wants a step "up". And, I think American culture cherishes that right more than we value helping the lowest economic classes get into the game. I think the higher ed tax credits are popular for that reason above all others - they're sort of like college vouchers, they offer "choice".

Those observations doesn't settle well with me (I'm more of an anti-class sort of guy). But, that doesn't mean I think it's less true.

...

I think the first two years should be defined by credit hour.

...

After teaching for a year in a CC computer lab where a keyboard drawer would break and drop to the floor during class at almost once a week, where a computer would die at least once a month, where... (I could go on all day), I'd like to chime in with wholehearted agreement that CCs should have more parity in funding. If only Barack Obama could be my governor too...
 
Since we don't do the lavish student centers, the over-the-top athletic programs, the climbing walls, or the various concierge services of the four-year schools

These things are all paid for by student fees in my state; no state funding goes toward any of them. State funding is a seperate pot that pays for instruction, not frills. Anytime you see a big-time frill program it's coming out of the students' or alumni pockets, not the taxpayers.

If students choose to attend a school with those frills, they are choosing to pay for them.

C1
 
And what about those pesky four-year schools? Wouldn't they just raise their tuition by another, say, $4k? After all, if you're already charging 50, what's 54?

Aren't you making the same mistake that you're always complaining about in, say, the NYT? They assume that the elite private universities are the only ones worth considering; here you're assuming that the only choices are cc's or those elite private universities. But at my four-year state school, $4000 would cover almost the entirety of tuition costs for in-state students. This would be a huge boost in their ability to attend college, IF the mechanism for claiming the tax rebate is simple enough.
 
I'm in the "support students" mode. I'd give all students enrolled in accredited 2-year or 4-year institutions vouchers worth up to $X per year for two years ($4K sounds like an acceptable place to start), but sort of like a gift card--you don't have to spend it all at once. So if it takes you 4 years to spend the $8K on tuition, etc., well, that's fine. But no more than $4K a year. (NOTE: The $4K is only an example, not necessarily the correct number.)
 
Since we don't do the lavish student centers, the over-the-top athletic programs, the climbing walls, or the various concierge services of the four-year schools

It's important here to differentiate between R1 and Master's granting institutions in this plea for equal funding. In my state, R1 schools get almost twice the funding per student that Master's schools get. But the real costs that drive all of this are those associated with research. Because less research is done at my school, we have lower infrastructure costs and our lower rate of "reimbursement for effort" if you will reflects that. When my department hires a faculty member, we don't have to give them a million dollars in start-up money - R1 schools do. We do fork over a mid five figure lump of cash to every person who walks in the door - and that gets spent in their first year here (in most cases). The only real way to decrease our costs would be to decrease the requirement for research (that's not going to happen, the RTP committee being the way it is).

CCs have even lower infrastructure costs so I think you would have a tough row to hoe making the argument for parity with other colleges. Your mission is significantly more limited and frankly, you teach the classes that are money makers for those of us at Master's granting schools.

How about demanding per student funding equal to that provided to high schools? This may only be my state but that would almost double the per student reimbursement that CCs get - and the kinds of things you pay for at a CC are more in line with high school than they are with a research oriented college - at least in terms of infrastructure and research costs. Not as satisfying as getting the same funding as the "big guys" but if it works, it works.
 
You'd have a lot of "what the hell, it's free" types taking space from serious students, especially during the crucial first 12 days.

I saw a lot of those at my 4YC, only it was their parents who were paying.

Texasyank
 
I fully support your argument, and think it should be made strongly by whoever does the lobbying for your CC. I don't buy the argument about state funds paying for research at an R1, since they are seldom sold that way and are lumped in with student tuition dollars in the "education" part of the budgets I looked at in detail in my own responses to a proposal this last summer:
http://doctorpion.blogspot.com/2008/06/college-finances-proposed-meme.html

Let them justify their "research" budget separately or admit that a 1/1 load is just what it looks like, along with lots of teaching being done by adjuncts who are less qualified than the f-t faculty at a CC. In the lean times you say you are having in your state, why should the leanest operation be cut as if it is as fat as the universities are?
 
You know the part I love. Who is going to pay for it? All well and good until then. Crazy.
 
I think this is the second or third time Dean Dad has mentioned climbing walls as an example of frivolous spending. I'm not disagreeing, but how did they become the preferred symbol of bad spending decisions? Thinking of other such examples I have seen, why not mention ugly outdoor sculptures, wrought iron fences, ill-conceived anti-drinking initiatives, carpeting in hallways, paper class catalogs, or a million other things?
 
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