December 28, 2008

A Paradox of Public Education

author_sally By Sally Raskoff

I’ve just been asked to cut more Sociology classes from our spring schedule. It’s the second time we’ve pared classes from our spring schedule and unfortunately I had to comply with the administration’s request. We’re not losing students – in fact, we grew by 8% this fall semester – a rate unheard of in recent years. That 8% growth happened even though we were turning students away because we had no room for them in our classrooms.

Why cut classes when we have “too many” students?

The answer is our state budget is being slashed and we are a public institution. Our charge as a community college is to serve the educational needs of our community. Yet this mission is becoming increasingly impossible. Our community is clamoring for various types of education, and in turn we provide a large variety of courses and programs. Yet we have to cut classes to help our state balance its budget.

In the long run we are in a no-win situation.

Generally, we are funded based on previous years of enrollments – paid per student at different rates for different types of courses. Our district gives us targets to grow at a particular rate every year – typically 2-3%. If we make the same enrollments as in previous years, our budget remains the same. clip_image002

When we have students trying to enroll in closed classes, we typically add classes because this allows us to grow and meet the district (and state) imposed growth targets. If we go over those targets, we don’t get any additional money for that “unfunded growth”. (Despite the fact that the students’ fees go straight into the state coffers.) We do have to pay the instructors and other staff because they are teaching those courses, and this situation will put us into deficit.

Here's the paradox: when we have fewer enrollments, we also go into deficit because we have fewer students. In this situation, we are expected to pay the excess money back if that same pattern lasts more than a year. As you might imagine, because of this system we often face deficits.

Alternatively, when the state cuts the education budget, our budget is cut back and we are forced to cut classes, since that’s the only control we have over our budget. Cutting classes means fewer faculty jobs and less need for other staffing, so our labor costs decline. Note that cutting classes, faculty, and staff also means that we lose students since we won’t offer classes in which they can enroll. That in turn can create a deficit for us because we may not reach those targets I mentioned earlier.

Are you getting a sense of how convoluted this system is? Even though this semester we had 8% enrollment growth and had scheduled our same spring courses with some anticipated growth we are now cutting that schedule by at least 10%, and probably more.

Because of the state of our economy, we know that we will have more students appear at our doors next spring and the following fall, not to mention our winter and summer intercessions. The 8% growth this semester was due to the economic problems that will most likely continue for some time. Our transfer clip_image002universities have also announced they will limit their enrollments, thus forcing more of their students to take classes with us. We anticipate that we will have many more potential students than we had already expected.

The problem is – we won’t have any classes for them to take!

Education is a societal institution that ensures our future by sustaining our society and enabling it to thrive. One crucial step out of a recession is to (re)train people and get better matches between people, skills, and jobs – a process that is best done in schools such as community colleges. No matter how we restructure our economy, education will continue to be a key component of our society’s infrastructure. Cutting educational budgets at any level is not an effective way to solve local, state, national, or international budget issues – it actually hampers our ability as a society to be flexible and respond to the demands of a changing economic and cultural environment. The capitalist imperative to ensure cheap labor through an under-educated underclass is an old policy that does us no favors in our as-yet-to-be-identified re-structured economy.

Conventional wisdom suggests that people who want to get ahead should work hard and go to college. But what if they do and there are no classes for them to take? What do you think this tells us about the realities of public education in the U.S. today?


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I have really found your post to be informative and this has compelled me to visit your blog over and over again. For the sake of relevance I'd like to thank you for your efforts in spreading academic information. Regards.

This blog is so true for many schools because no one can afford to have many class choices because of budjet cuts in the education. Everyone is always talking about change and improving our future, but how can we do that when our education is being cut down over and over again to help the government in their spending. I don't want to criticize because it gets us no where, but the only thing anyone is worried about is money, money, money!

ok I want to correct my spelling, especially since I'm talking about education. I spelled budget wrong. There I feel better!

It's too bad to hear that your sociolgy class has to be cut. The state keeps giving students more requirements, but doesn't seems to have the money to back the classes up. I think that it's sad that the interesting classes like sociology have to be cut. Im actually taking sociology right now. Were learning about education and what needs to be changed, or kept the same. You talk about having to be able to hold all the students. That is really big. Education is so important, and if we have to keep cutting classes than we aren't gaining progress. I think there needs to be a bigger plan for education at the government level.

To me, sociology is a class that should be offered to every student. With shrinking budgets and oversized classrooms, its hard to offer this class to every student. When it comes to schools, they need to put education first instead of thinking about their revenue, becuase our future is in these schools; why not give them the best education we can?
I learned alot from this post, thanks. The government just needs to realize this.

This post was very informative. The state continues to stress the importance of an education, but can't seem to find the money to back it up. I don't like that all of the core classes are having to be moved around and shaved off. How is cutting classes going to help the students and the economy get on track?

It is really too bad that your classes have to be cut. Sociology and psychology are really important, especially in college. In college, they are almost just as important as the "core" classes. It really depends on the chosen major. Cutting them back may affect the availibility of these classes. Students that need this class may not be able to get into it. At a college nearby me, they began cutting classes. They cut some elective classes like sociology, but they didn't cut their golf class. Where is golf ever going to help anyone in the real world? This is also at a community college.

This post was very interesting to read from a student’s point of view, and also very interesting. Schools especially in districts around where I go it’s getting to the point where classes have to be added and the curriculum is completely changed just to change to the additional students. It’s interesting to hear from a point of view where the classes are being cut, instead of added.

This post is very true to many schools and colleges. I go to a public school and we have less than 1,000 students from K-12. Every school year we seem to be cutting more and more classes. It's not helping the students or the teachers because the students don't get the opportunity to take the classes then we have teachers that aren't needed for the whole day and it makes things even more complicated. I hope in the future when the economy gets better the schools will benefit.

This blog made a very good point. How can we be cutting down on classes if we want to make our society better, and if the one of the ways to help our society is education then we shouldn't be cutting down on classes. I think our government should be taking another look at what they are doing. Cutting down on classes, especially important ones, should not be done. We need education in order to succeed.

This whole paradox thing seems to be going in a cycle that feeds off of itself. First, less funds means the school has to trim the budget, usually starting with staff of classes which could result in parents or students not wanting to enroll into the school. So, there would be less students, meaning less funding because of the smaller student body, going back to the beginning of the cycle.

good blog

That is extremely unfair that you have had to cut the selection of classes available to students because the state budget does not allow it. A wide selection of options should be available to any student that wants it, and it isn't right for the state budget to dictate how many classes are available to everyone.

good one site

I found this information unbelievable. You have more students, so you cut classes? How does that solve problems? The government needs to realize that because of the terrible economy, more people are attending community college. Hearing things like this is really makes me worry about America's future.

The education system is in a very sad state in this county. It's sad that as enrollment for classes goes up, funding goes down. Maybe in stead of keeping our underclass our underclass, we could make things a little more even. Maybe our economy wouldn't be in such a pathetic state if we educated people a little better. I wonder if any of our Republican leadership has ever thought of that.

It was very interesting to see that you had to cut classes even with a 8% increase in enrollment. How are you supposed to pay for certain things when you are always struggling? And if you are going to struggle, wouldn't it be better to have classes for students so they can further their education and struggle instead of closing classes and struggling? I find this topic very interesting and it kinda stirs up anger in me.

I think that the way the government has set this budget system up has some holes in it. I think that they should re-evaluate how they are distributing their money. Also I don't understand why they find it nesseccary to cut education cuts. I mean education is the future to our country. You would think they would find another area to cut instead of education.

Me and my friends perhaps every one want a change because education is the future of our country.

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