Wednesday, October 06, 2010

$35 Million in Perspective

Apparently at the White House Community College Summit yesterday, President Obama announced no new public money for community colleges. But the Gates Foundation announced it would contribute $35 million.

Obviously, for any one private entity to give $35 million is very generous. But it’s worth putting in perspective.

It’s less than my college’s operating budget for one year. My college is one of 1100 community colleges across the country.

Depending on the size and ambition of the buildings, it would pay for one to two new classroom buildings. If they’re renovations, you might get three.

If it were put in an interest-bearing account at today’s interest rates -- call it one percent, to keep the math easy -- it would generate $350,000 in income. Divided evenly by 1100 community colleges, that’s a little over $300 per college.

Private philanthropy is lovely, but if we think that it’s a serious substitute for sustained public funding, we’re kidding ourselves.

I don’t mean this as a criticism of Gates. They could have kept their money, or given it to some other cause. No argument there.

But as far as bold leadership gestures go, Obama whiffed completely. This isn’t even close. If you want to double the number of college grads by 2020, this doesn’t even resemble a gesture.

Meanwhile, the shape of the policy debate is over whether to extend tax cuts for dead rich people.

When I voted for “change,” I didn’t realize it meant “spare.”