Wednesday, June 16, 2004

What does a community college education buy? 

We're going through the issue of technical college versus comprehensive university with #1 son right now. He likes Shakespeare and journals more and better than I do, but simply finds nothing in college to like. He'd rather cook for a living. So today I have also been two pieces. First, via Joanne Jacobs comes an article comparing a woman's experience teaching in a community college with her daughter's experience at Reed. Amardeep Singh comments on the difference between the graduates of the two places.
Graduation from a posh college is a routine affair. Most students expect it, and are scarcely attentive during the ceremony. Graduation from community college, in contrast, reflects profound personal struggle against their environment and sometimes their own limitations (i.e., struggles with language, learning disabilities). The students aren't dry-eyed, so perhaps the professors who helped them through don't need to be either.
If I thought #1 would view graduation with some kind of emotion and sense of accomplishment, that would be worth the price of admission, which admittedly is small.

Second, a new report suggests that there is a crisis in funding community colleges in California, according to a group of business and labor leaders. But this is a good deal overstated. Only half of the over 700,000 additional seats in community colleges are for new graduates; the remainder are "a hidden tidal wave" of older workers who would increase their skills. But isn't that just a subsidy to businesses who don't want to pay for training themselves? And labor leaders are more likely to find membership in skilled labor areas as free trade moves more unskilled jobs offshore, decreasing the potential for unions to force up wages. Why would taxpayers wish to subsidize that?

If the experience is as Sharp's article suggests, subsidies should be unnecessary.