• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.


Friday Fragments

Campus diversity and politics; student loan debt and more.

January 14, 2016

Increased diversity among college students leads to decreased political and economic support for higher education, says a new study.

This is not news to those of us at community colleges. Among non-profits, this has long been the most diverse sector of higher education.  It has also been the least funded.  

The same dynamic seems to hold in the K-12 world, as well; in areas where the voting population doesn’t resemble the schoolgoing population, school spending comes under sustained attack.  

The study suggests that the effect is strongest among the oldest generations, and much weaker among the younger ones.  I hope that’s truly a generational effect, rather than a life-cycle one.  

Many years ago, at CCM, we used to host special days for senior citizens in the area. I usually did a presentation on American politics. Morris is a very conservative area, and the seniors largely reflected that. In one talk, someone raised an objection to what he saw as excessive immigration -- it was a variation on the “way of life” argument. I responded that Social Security is pay-as-you-go, and significant immigration of young people was the only thing keeping the system afloat.  He actually paused, looked confused for a moment, and admitted that he had never heard that before. I don’t know that he changed his mind, but the whole tone of the discussion abruptly became much more thoughtful.

We have some serious educating to do, and not only of our students.


40 percent of student loan debt is incurred in graduate school. If we want to talk intelligently about student loans, that has to be part of the picture.

From a community college perspective, talk of "skin in the game" for student loans is deeply frustrating. We have open-door admissions, and student loans are entitlements. Yet we're supposed to be on the hook for repayments, even for students who dropped out after a month. If you can't choose your borrowers, you can't refuse them, and you can't cap how much they borrow, how does it make sense to hold you responsible?

I know that it's politically impossible to ignore the issue, but the current solutions don't make sense. I'd much rather see free community college, but if we can't get that anytime soon, here's an alternative to the current measure:

Just look at actual graduates.

If large numbers of graduates can't pay back loans, then there may very well be an issue with either the quality of the program, or the relevance of the program. But judging programs based on people who dropped out in the first semester doesn't make sense. At that point, you're really measuring the poverty of the students when they started.


This piece in the Atlantic is fascinating. If high school graduation rates are up, why are college enrollments down?

The article notes that enrollments at community colleges tend to be countercyclical to the economy, which is true; it's harder to compete with a job than to compete with unemployment. But I'd add a couple more factors.

One is the rapid decline of the for-profits. For-profits targeted the populations most likely to be buffeted by the economy.  

Another, more basically, is that it's misleading to compare a rate to a raw number. The high school graduation rate is a rate; enrollment numbers are numbers. If you have a higher rate of a smaller group, you could wind up with a lower number at the end. That's more or less what many of us in the Northeast and Midwest are facing; the high schools are doing better with the students they have, but they have fewer students. Even with (welcome!) improvements in graduation rates, we're just not getting the volume we used to get.  

In previous years, I would have pointed to the incarceration rate, as well. But I think we've passed Peak Incarceration.  

I hope that the "is college worth it?" drumbeat isn't having much of an effect. We'll know when the next recession hits.



A tip o’the cap to Alan Rickman. He had a way of making anything he was in, better. By the hammer of Grabthar, he shall be remembered.



Back to Top