Michael Hansen: Three Challenges for Community Colleges!

Dear Commons Community,

Michael Hansen, President of the Michigan Community College Association, was recently interviewed on the challenges facing community colleges. He sheds light on these challenges and shares his thoughts on what college leaders need to do in order to navigate them and achieve long-term sustainability and growth. Here is an excerpt:

“As I [Hansen] see it, there are 3 main challenges facing community colleges today: the completion agenda; declining enrollment; and divestment by state legislatures.

The business model that has supported community colleges essentially since their inception was built on an access mission for most institutions. Providing an affordable postsecondary opportunity to anyone interested in bettering their lives is sustainable so long as significant student support services such as advising, counseling, tutoring, effective remediation and other structural redesigns that are created to support successful completion are not required. While almost all community colleges now have mission statements that incorporate this new emphasis on completion and success, the new business model required to fund these goals has lagged behind.

Increasing completions is achievable, it’s just very expensive. On top of that, at least in recent years (the last five, specifically) community colleges have been subject to the well-known and well-documented phenomenon of the counter-cyclical pattern of enrollment and the performance of the economy. In essence, as the economy improved recently, enrollments declined. Clearly, this sometimes dramatic decline in enrollment (as high as 10 percent a year for five years) is more easily managed by colleges who either rely more heavily on the use of adjuncts and other short-term, contract based staff, and/or those who are less dependent on tuition revenue for their overall financial support. A college that receives 70 percent of its revenue from tuition is clearly more sensitive to enrollment declines than a college that may only be 30 percent reliant on tuition revenue (the other components of revenue being state appropriation and local funding).

Finally, while community colleges in the 90’s—at least in Michigan—grew accustomed to annual increases in state funding that exceeded and often doubled the rate of inflation, since the start of the new century appropriations have been either negative, flat, or just under the annual rate of inflation. Ultimately, this means that state funding for community colleges in Michigan today is at about at the same level is was 15 years ago.”

His conclusion:

“I think the world of higher education is changing so rapidly right now that it’s almost too early to know what the right adaptation will look like, and what changes will prove to be the most sustainable and supporting.

…the successful institutions are constantly scanning and monitoring their environment and moving forward based on assumptions they see for the future. As those assumptions change, institutions need to change. But staying as far ahead of the curve as possible is certainly a more predictive measure for success than continuing to do business as it has always been done. “

Sound advice!


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