As a community college teacher, I see the phrase “trying to make a dollar in 15 cents” repeated every day as we strive to provide quality education with limited resources. I was delighted to hear speeches from Joe and Jill Biden announcing one of the highlights of the American Family Plan – Free community college for all.
While I welcome the fact that this proposal shines the spotlight on community colleges across the country, the plan is not what we need. Community colleges are in desperate need of more funding, but rather than allocating resources to increase access, they should be used to support the mission of community colleges – to serve the local community and reduce the gap in opportunity.
In a country where wealth and income inequalities have increased dramatically over the past five decades, anything free looks appealing. If the goal is to level the playing field, allocating resources to those who need them most will have a greater impact.
Between the college promise programs Nascent nationally that offer tuition-free community colleges for specific colleges or university districts and federal Pell Grant funding, community colleges are already in effect free for most low-income students.
The main beneficiaries of the universal free community college would be middle-income students who, due to rising tuition fees in public and private four-year schools, often choose to complete their first two years at the community college. This is an important concern, but it would be best addressed by making public four-year schools free or at least more affordable. The group that would certainly not benefit from this proposal are the traditional low-income community college students.
The crisis facing community colleges is not that students are unable to afford tuition. The crisis is that they fail – or maybe we fail them – after they register. The many benefits of a college education, including higher incomes and better health, are well documented, but they only materialize when students successfully complete their studies.
Only 13% of students who enter a community college with the aim of obtaining a diploma do so within two years. Among the many reasons because these are under-prepared students, ill-defined degree requirements, and the limited ability of four-year schools to accept transfer students.
As efforts are underway to overcome these obstacles, as a former mental health practitioner, I am struck by how little is being done to overcome another major obstacle to success: mental health issues and trauma.
College years can be an extremely stressful time for anyone, but evidence suggests that community college students struggle more academically with mental health than four-year-old school students and we know that community colleges have fewer resources to fight mental illness.
The trend in higher education is to allocate far more resources to rich, high performing students, while leaving poor students with the greatest educational needs left behind. Private research universities spend five times more per student per year ($ 71,597), as do community colleges ($ 14,090), for example.
One of the results is that as four-year schools realize that student mental health is one of the most important issues facing their students and expand mental health services, community colleges delete.
Only 13 percent of community colleges offer psychiatric services and a third do not offer mental health services. Mental health services in the schools that provide them are often inadequate.
I am very supportive of the additional funding of $ 11 billion to support community colleges. Rather than using these funds to address access which is not a problem for low-income students, they should be used to develop high-quality, evidence-based mental health services that teach participants how to create and maintain a regulated nervous system rather than the less efficient. but more common talk therapy.
We need to focus on better serving the students we already have and ensuring their success.
Dennis is an educator at Sacramento City College and a former mental health clinician.