Adam’s Blog

That’s my thing, keepin’ the faith, baby. –Joe Friday

Community Colleges: Accept No Substitutes

Posted by Adam Graham on January 29, 2007

Id. Rep. Branden Durst (D-Idaho 18) has a piece up on his blog on the case for Community Colleges. For those who don’t know, I’m a Community College Graduate (Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell, Montana.) and I now live in Boise, Idaho, the largest Urban area in America without a college.

I should point out that while Ada County, with a population of 345,000 has none, Flathead County has one with a population around 80,000. It provides education not only to the Flathead Valley, but also to the Libby area with an extension campus.

Durst examined some objections:

They first point to the existence of the Treasure Valley Community College in Caldwell — it is an institution ran by the State of Oregon. Yes, that’s right, OREGON figured out what we needed in the Valley before we did. That is sad. The problem remains however, that as an institution of Oregon, we have no more right to change it than we would a private institution. That’s called oversight, and that’s one of the primary benefits to a public education system.

Now, I find this situation amazing as well. Of course, it should be noted that there are a whole 500 students going there and they offer a very limited range of subjects. Of course, going to Treasure Valley Community College gives you the distinct privilege of paying Oregon out-of-state tuition to go to school in Idaho.

Rep. Durst (D-Id.) then argues against using private career colleges as a solution:

Quality (ITT and Steven Henagar [sic]aren’t known for their academic prowess)
Cost (these places are much more expensive than a community college)
Financial Aid (most of them don’t offer it, and if they do, its very restricted)
Transferability (because they lack quality, a respectable four year institution will not transfer the credits earned at these places)
Leakage (because they don’t transfer, their is no incentive to stay in Idaho)

Well, Rep. Durst (D-Id.) hurt his own case by taking an unnecessary stab at Stevens-Henager and ITT. Both institutions have their purposes, and demeaning the institutions may be a great for a Master’s degree student, but isn’t so good for a legislator.

Steven-Henager does offer financial aid so it does have some accreditation, but where Durst got it right was on tuition:

Beginning with the July 25, 2005, module, tuition charges will range from $281.00 to $320.00 per quarter credit except for Respiratory Therapy which will be $430.00 per semester credit. The cost of all books, uniforms, and laboratory supplies are included in tuition.

Now, this is a huge per credit hour cost. The fact is that Stephens-Henager is not a poor quality institution. It’s simply not meant to fill the needs of a Community College. Stephens-Henager is meant primarily to provide career-minded adults the flexible environment they need to finish their degrees and move up their career ladder. There’s no thought of, “Transferring credits to another institution.” It’s, “Get your degree and enjoy a better career path.” These institutions typically make it easy for adult learners to attend college through the way classes are scheduled. It’s a good goal and it’s served them well, but it’s not a community college.

You’re not going there if you’re an 18-year-old who wants to stay close to home and figure out what you want to do with life. At $281 a credit hour, you better have figured out what you want to do when you get to Stephens-Henager, or ITT for that matter.

Branden lays out 4 ways to get to a Community College and I’ll address each briefly:

1) Reduce the majority needed to pass the community college taxing district from 66% to at most 60% (originally the threshold was only a simple majority).

I’d agree with this with the Governor’s proviso that it be done at the Primary or the General election. Here’s why. At the primary or general, you will get the greatest turnout. A lot of people think it’s a perfectly fine practice of Democracy to call an election in the middle of February that will decide the future of all property owners in the new district. We’ll all pay for it, so we better all be on board. If there’s a vote held fair and square on primary day or the general election, I’ll strongly support a Community College (I might even work on the campaign for it.) But, if there’s a call for an election at some unusual time when voters will not be used to an election being there, I couldn’t in good conscience support treading on foundational democratic fairness if the threshold were lowed to 60% in a non-general, non-primary election.

2) Ensure local control to allow the institution to be flexible and responsive.

Fully agreed.

3) Provide state, local, and private funding to get “buy-in” from all that will benefit from the community college.

Once a district is created? Absolutely. Before then, I don’t think tax dollars should go to electioneering.

4) State funding must also be set as a scale to the so-called “full-time equivalent headcount.” This ensures that as the college grows (or shrinks) the state funding will do the same.

I would agree, again, once the college gets going. Governor Otter’s seed money will be a good start.

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