Higher Education Finance in the 1990s:
Hard Choices for Community Colleges
by James L. Morrison

[Note: This is a re-formatted manuscript that was originally published in On the Horizon, 1992, 1(3), 9. It is posted here with permission from Jossey Bass Publishers.]

There is good news and bad news in recent data for 34 states on 1990-91 and 1991-92 appropriations to community colleges. The good news is that appropriations to two-year colleges increased by 12.5% in 1991-92 across the 34 states reporting as compared with 2.5% for higher education overall. Indeed, the level of support for community colleges was five times that of higher education as a whole. Declines in state support are primarily in the south and northeast.

The bad news is that state appropriations for two-year institutions did not keep pace with enrollment growth. As a consequence, tuition in public two-year colleges went up 13% in 1992--the largest increase of any sector of higher education. Contributing to this situation is that higher education's total share of state budgets has been declining while support of other public priorities (i.e., Medicaid, corrections, etc.) has increased. One factor that may be contributing to the shift away from higher education and two-year colleges as a budgetary priority for state government is the growing public distrust of all institutions including higher education. [McClenny, K. & Mingle, J. 1992, September. Higher education finance in the 1990s: Hard choices for community colleges. Leadership Abstracts, Vol. 5, No. 7.]


Many two-year colleges, once able to offer a smorgasbord of programs, are faced with decisions of curricular triage and retrenchment. Like other institutions in our society, two-year colleges will have to "do more with less." They must win inter-governmental competition, seek alternative sources of revenue, and restructure themselves by placing emphasis on highly focused missions. Perhaps this is an opportunity to forge alliances with other schools. For example, some community colleges are joining with public schools and the business community to develop full-blown apprenticeship programs.

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