I recently read a disturbing report about a local community college.
Palomar College is a great asset to North San Diego County. It serves is a bridge for our young adults. It provides local students who are less affluent or who have lower scholastic qualifications a pathway to an advanced education. The report characterized 45% of the 25,000 students at Palomar as “underprivileged.” That struck me as odd.
Under current federal law, that means those students require “special services and assistance” paid for by the taxpayers. And by the way, those numbers do not include handicapped students.
So what is going on here? How can this be?
People who live in San Diego County are by no means underprivileged. According to a report by the Economic Policy Institute, a family of four needs an income of $97K to “live comfortably” in our county. It would be easy to make the case that most people who live in San Diego county are, compared to most of the country, somewhat privileged.
So why do nearly half of all of our community college students need public assistance? Since most of Palomar’s student body come from local homes, does that mean that families who earn $97K a year are disadvantaged and should therefore receive financial aid or other kinds of subsidies? Or are nearly half of the people living in the San Diego area financially “uncomfortable”?
Either way, many struggling families rely on community colleges as a starting point for their children to get a four year degree. It is important that we provide that path to success. I have no problem with schools offering discounted services to their disadvantaged students, but the idea that they should guarantee their tuition or graduation is counter intuitive. There is nothing more disingenuous than pandering politicians offering to “give our children a college education.” An advanced degree is not a commodity that comes in a box. No matter who pays for the access, the student has to earn the degree.
The process of defining large portions of students as “disadvantaged” is, in my view, just another way for government to grow itself. Legislatures and administrators classify an increasing number of students as poor or disadvantaged, then offer subsidy programs to “assure their success.” All of which requires more classrooms, more teachers and more staff, all funded by higher taxes and tuitions.
Those who can afford the higher tuitions pay them, while those who cannot get subsidies. Isn’t that income redistribution? I think the qualifications standards are so broad that these subsidy programs are a disguise for slippery-slope socialism. The community college system would eventually become high school on steroids, diminishing the integrity and value of a two-year Associate of Arts degree. Governor Gavin Newsom’s new “Two Years Free” tuition proposal is pointing the California community college system in that direction.
The point is there are a myriad of ways colleges can help students, but adding teachers, facilities and administrators is not the solution. In fact, it exacerbates the problem.
I feel bad for the students. They are not responsible for the bureaucracy that has become endemic to our schools. The high cost of education is a direct result of the unionization of the educational bureaucracy and the competition for salary and retirement benefit funding is destroying access for the less fortunate. That invites pandering politicians to ride in on their white horses and offer “fairness” programs.
Teachers and administrators are the first to complain about how tough it is for many students to deal with financial pressures while attending classes. But you don’t see the unions reducing their salary and benefit demands to increase enrollment, do you? One study showed that the number of administrators per student, since 1980, has doubled. According to the Delta Cost Project (a think tank that tracks college costs), spending on administration has far outpaced spending on instruction since the late 1980’s.
The objective of college is to help students develop marketable job skills so they can determine their own destiny. If they can’t handle the challenges and costs of a community college, how are they going to make it in the Real World? Overcoming challenges like junior college expenses should be Home Economics 101.
The bottom line is we all have to deal with current financial realities. I know it sounds insensitive, but at some point we have to push students out of the nest so they learn to fly.
* * *
Rick Elkin is a cultural and media observer, author and columnist. His most recent book, “Trump’s Reckoning: Bulldozing Progressivism, Rebuilding Americanism,” is available through most online book sellers. He resides in Escondido, California. You can follow him at RickElkin.com or on Twitter @Rick_Elkin.