by Colleen Flaherty
Pam Thurman is an administrator for John C. Calhoun State Community College in Decatur, Alabama. None of the staff has had a raise in six years. Instead, they’ve been handed three pay cuts. The classrooms are overcrowded. Teachers only receive a $300 reimbursement for supplies, but almost always spend more out of their own pockets.
But the worst part, said Thurman, is the effect cuts are having on students.
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“Most young people can’t afford to go to school, and all students now are having to take out student loans because of grants being lower,” said Thurman. “They keep cutting education to balance the budget. Who is going to pay? Our children and their education.”
There is more bad news for our country’s underfunded community colleges. If Congress fails to reverse the reckless, across-the-board sequester cuts, 3 billion dollars will be lost from federal education spending. Not only will this cut into these schools’ budgets, but several education affordability programs will also be slashed, such as the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, which will be cut by $37 million and affect more than 1.3 million students.
Mary Robbins is a teacher at a Texas community college where she teaches a variety of students. Some are there for job training while others are hoping to transfer to a four-year college and save money. Unfortunately, that may not be the case for long.
“My students will find that scholarships that might have helped them buy expensive textbooks are gone. All my students pay for their own college courses, and I’m sure that some of my best students will decide that college preparation is beyond their reach,” said Robbins.
According to Jim Rice, a a Massachusetts community college professor and president of NEA’s National Council for Higher Education, cuts to community colleges will negatively impact millions of students.
“The community colleges in the U.S. educate the largest number of students into higher education and the work force via programs, certificates, transfer options to other institutions and developmental education,” said Rice. “Sequestration only delays the critical work for student success.”
This doesn’t bode well for communities either. According to NEA economist Richard Sims, a community’s economic health is substantially improved by a community college. The college trains people who normally graduate and work in the community, and it provides a pathway to the middle class for its students, a crucial need in our current economy.
The Obama administration has recognized the need for investment in these institutions and proposed a “Community College to Career Fund,” which would invest $8 billion in our nation’s community colleges.
“The truth is that the skills and training you get here will be the best tool you have to achieve the American promise, the promise that if you work hard you can do well enough to raise a family, own a home, send your own kids to college, and put a little bit away for retirement,” said Obama at the unveiling of his budget at Northern Virginia Community College.
Although the cost of the proposal may seem steep, it’s a wise investment for the future. According to a recent Georgetown University study, by 2018, America’s workforce will be short 3 million workers with college degrees. “At a time when every job is precious this shortfall will mean lost economic opportunity for millions of Americans,” said the authors.
Unfortunately, Obama’s proposal is unlikely to go anywhere in the face of the sequester cuts.
“Sequestration of community college monies is a looming disaster for Obama’s attempt to put the economy back on it’s feet,” said Rice. “The best course of action is for Congress to resolve the difficulties and stop the process of mindless cuts.”