Friday, August 27, 2010


As regular readers know, I’m kind of obsessed with questions of structure in American higher education. I’m working on a book on the subject now, and I keep bumping into a series of suspicions that I can neither prove nor disprove.

I don’t know if anyone has done a serious study of this. If someone has, I’d love a reference. But if not, here’s an idea for an enterprising Ed.D. student looking for a dissertation topic...

Nationally, there are two popular funding models for community colleges. (Yes, there are infinite minor variations within them, but in general terms, this is true.)

1. The state provides a subsidy, and tuition/fees provide the rest.

2. The state provides a subsidy, the county or other local entity provides a second subsidy, and tuition/fees provide the rest. (Sometimes a service area will comprise multiple counties, but the concept is the same.)

Based on my admittedly limited observation and experience, I have a couple hypotheses about differences between the two systems.

1. All else being equal, cc’s in state-funded systems are likelier to add bachelor’s degree completion programs than cc’s in county-funded systems.

2. All else being equal, cc’s in county-funded systems will be funded at higher levels than cc’s in state-funded systems. Although there are several reasons for this, competition will be a major one.

3. All else being equal, cc’s in county-funded systems will have much more highly-charged debates about the residency status of undocumented students than will cc’s in state-funded systems. (This is because of the tuition premium for out-of-county students.)

4. All else being equal, credit transfer between cc’s and four-year state colleges will be smoother in state-funded systems than in county-funded systems. (That’s because he who pays the piper calls the tune.)

By “all else being equal,” I’m referring primarily to the population density and wealth level of the area. In other words, the relevant comparisons would be between cc’s in demographically similar areas. Such distinctions as rural/suburban/urban or wealthy/poor will obviously swamp the more subtle differences I’m trying to isolate.

Does anyone know of any good empirical work already done on any of these questions? Alternately, does anyone have some good counterexamples?