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New funding formula for California community colleges will help students succeed

Sam Saeteurn grinds a weld on a test piece in the Welding Technology program at American River College in September 2017.
Sam Saeteurn grinds a weld on a test piece in the Welding Technology program at American River College in September 2017. Sacramento Bee file

It can be easy to get lost in the numbers when discussing Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to improve the way the state supports its 114 community colleges.

But this is about more than numbers. It’s about fixing an outdated funding system that has not always served students well.

For decades, California’s community colleges have been funded based on how many students they enroll. The current system does not take into account that some students face higher barriers to success than others, and it does not take into account whether students reach their educational goals.

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Keith Curry

The community college system is moving in a new direction. Last year, the Board of Governors adopted its Vision for Success, aimed at helping more students -- especially students of color and those from underserved regions -- earn degrees and certificates and get into the workforce.

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Colleges have already made progress, including more students taking college-level courses rather than getting trapped in remedial classes that don’t count toward degrees, that discourage them and that often cause them to drop out.

But real change is difficult. And when the financial incentives do not match the goals, it’s practically impossible.

Gov. Brown believes he has the solution: Colleges would receive 60 percent of their funding based on their total enrollment, plus additional funding based on the number of students on financial aid, the number who make steady progress toward a degree or certificate, and the number who earn a living wage after they leave college. No college would receive less over each of the next two years than it does this year.

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Kathy Hart

This blended formula would create financial incentives for community colleges to strongly encourage students to make progress while making institutions more aware of their own performance. While the system, which serves 2.1 million students, has made significant strides, most students take too long to earn a certificate or a degree or transfer to a four-year college, or never do so. Achievement gaps for black and Latino students persist at unacceptable rates.

Changes to the way colleges are funded will help more students succeed.

Keith Curry is president of the Compton College and can be contacted at kcurry@compton.edu. Kathy Hart is president of the San Joaquin Delta Community College District and can be contacted at khart@deltacollege.edu.
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