New National Study Finds Strong Support for Community Colleges From the Public at Large

TRENTON, N.J.—According to a new study recently released by the think tank New America, Americans appear to have a strong positive view of community colleges in regards to their importance to the workforce, value and ability to prepare students for success.

The inaugural higher education survey, which polled 1,600 Americans ages 18 and older, gauged views on higher education and economic mobility.

Overall, Americans hold public community colleges in high regard: 83 percent of survey participants said community colleges contribute to a strong U.S. workforce; 82 percent said the colleges are worth the cost; and 80 percent stated that the colleges prepare people to be successful.

The rates in each of the categories surpassed those of other higher education sectors, according to the survey. For example, only 40 percent of survey participants said for-profit universities were “worth the cost,” followed by 43 percent for private four-year colleges and universities.

J. Noah Brown, president and chief executive officer of the Association of Community College Trustees, which represents more than 6,500 elected and appointed trustees who govern over 1,200 community, technical, and junior colleges in the United States, said he was pleased to see the positive views of community colleges, which have benefitted from the growing attention of policy makers in recent years, but that attention and the public view of higher education as a societal good have yet to translate into increased support in the form of tax dollars.

While the public has a strong positive perception of community colleges, the two-year public colleges continue to be significantly underfunded in New Jersey, even though they are by far the largest providers of higher education in the state. For example, community colleges receive $2,040 per student from the state, compared to the state’s private colleges and universities, which receive $2,302 per student in state funding.

Last year, the Office of the New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education and the New Jersey Presidents’ Council, the statewide advisory board consisting of all of New Jersey’s college and university presidents, commissioned the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS) to do a comprehensive study of higher education funding in New Jersey. The NCHEMS study report found:

“The most under-resourced sector of public higher education in New Jersey is the County/Community Colleges. The combination of state appropriations, local taxes, and tuition revenue is insufficient to fund these institutions at levels commensurate with their peers in other states. Of these sources, the biggest difference in funding between New Jersey and the comparison states is in the level of support from the state. The community colleges have not sought to make up the funding differential by an overdependence on tuition increases.” (The Financing of Higher Education in New Jersey, page 24).

“The community colleges are the one sector of public higher education in New Jersey that is underfunded on a comparative basis (by $1,000 to $1,500 per full-time equivalent student). This underfunding is a consequence of the very low investment in these institutions being made by the state. It is recommended that funding priority in New Jersey be given to ensuring funding adequacy for the community/county colleges.” (Recommendations Regarding the Financing of Higher Education in New Jersey, page 6).

“While community college leaders fully understand and appreciate the very difficult fiscal challenges we face in New Jersey, we have an obligation to inform state policymakers that the way our state builds its higher education budget is flawed,” said Dr. William Austin, president of Warren County Community College and chairman of the New Jersey Community College Presidents. “It just doesn’t make any sense that the largest sector of higher education – community colleges – should be the most severely underfunded.”

The New Jersey Council of County Colleges is the state association representing New Jersey’s 19 community colleges. As an independent, trustee-headed organization that joins the leadership of trustees and presidents, the Council is the voice of the community college sector before the state legislature and other branches of government.

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