Thursday, July 2, 2015

TC3 to Become TC2?

Tompkins Cortland Community College spans two counties and is supported by financial donations from both. This year, the college went to the counties to request an increase of 4%. Cortland votes first; Tompkins votes in July. At their budget and finance meeting in early June, Cortland legislators agreed on a 2% increase, with all committee members but George Wagner voting yes. Then at their legislative meeting in late June, the whole body voted against any increase at all, with the chair of the budget committee flip-flopping on his original vote. Now either Tompkins picks up the slack, which is doubtful, or the counties allow the college to suck up its reserves, or the college continues to lay off personnel—or renames itself TC2.

George Wagner is quoted as saying that he thinks the college should become its own self-supporting organization. I wonder if he feels that way about all public schools.

The community colleges of New York State were established postwar as state-supported institutions, primarily technical schools at the start. Early on, the state asked local communities to start pitching in to support the technical colleges, which were to become part of a system of community colleges. Funding was set in a 1/3-1/3-1/3 model, with 1/3 coming from the state, 1/3 from the community, and 1/3 from tuition.

Legislation in the 1970s was supposed to increase the state portion to 40%. In 1999, Comptroller McCall put out a report explaining that the state had only met that goal once since it was imposed, and that it had in fact dipped below 30%, causing tuition to increase. Since that time, the legislature occasionally proposes increases on the part of the state, but funding of the colleges continues to be a battle, with students generally taking up the slack as tuition rises, and two-year education becomes out of reach for many families. Most recently, Governor Cuomo has asked to tie college funding to a variety of performance standards, just as he has for the pK-12 schools.

Half of Cortland High's graduates who go to college go to a two-year school, and I'm willing to bet that 98% of those go to TC3. If they're like Dryden's graduates who attend TC3, probably half of them or more need the community college's remedial courses to advance any farther educationally.

Sure, we need to improve pK-12 so that we're not teaching high school make-up courses at TC3. But until we do that, we'd better think about what we get out of our community colleges and whether or not that's worth supporting. The current funding structure isn't working.

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