(MintPress) – As public community colleges scramble to deal with declining enrollment and state budget cuts, some are taking on extreme measures to make up for the funding gap, cutting recruiting positions in favor of private consultants, raising tuition in high-demand classes and looking to the other side of the pond for profitable enrollment.
For community colleges, international students are worth more, bottom line. Tuition rates are far higher for those who travel from overseas to attend colleges. At California’s Solano Community College, international students pay $197 more per unit, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting.
While that’s good for the college’s financial forecast, some are worried it drives out local students, who also happen to make up the taxpayer base contributing to public college funding. The issue of hiring someone not affiliated with the college also raises a red flag for ethical watchdogs concerned that hiring outside firms could take control away from college’s branding efforts.
Yet community colleges seem to have limited options, as they struggle with the fine line of cutting positions and providing a service worth the ever-increasing tuition rate. Meanwhile, those in the academic world consider how to lobby state and national legislative bodies to leave higher education out of the budget chopping block.
California, where community colleges are faced with steep budget cuts, is leading the way in terms of outside-of-the-box revenue generation ideas. It has everything to do with the financial situation of two-year colleges, which have seen drastic funding cuts — cuts of $564 million during the 2011-12 school year alone.
All of this comes at a time when many are scrambling to get an education. With community colleges the typical affordable option, the service has arguably never been more vital for the nation, as Americans find themselves swimming in debt. In 2011, 43 percent of all college students (up 8 percent since 2007) were enrolled in community colleges, according to the Higher Education Research and Development Institute.
Budget cuts lead to new revenue plans
Tuition at community — and all public — college continues to rise consistently. California, considered one of the fastest rising tuition states, saw a 37 percent tuition jump in 2011, according to a report in the LA Times.
Some state community colleges have shaped tuition rates based on classes — Santa Monica College in California is a prime example. During the summer of 2012, the college offered high-demand courses at an increased cost, bringing the supply-and-demand philosophy into the public education sector.
According to the American Association of Community College’s, which represents more than 1,200 community colleges throughout the U.S., the typical formula for revenue sources includes 34 percent from state funds, 20 percent from local funds, 16 percent from federal funds, 13 percent from other sources and just 16 percent through tuition and fees.
And while they may be leading the way, other colleges across the nation are looking to Santa Monica as a model, adding to the list of outside-the-box trends of increasing revenue, along with the opening of the international market.
In many ways, recruiting internationally increases the market for community colleges, which are given government funding on a per student basis, as well as through student-paid tuition.
Colleges that have recognized this have moved their emphasis away from local recruitment efforts and onto the international scene. Diablo Valley College in California has raised its international student presence 29 percent since the 2007-08 school year. This year, the college enrolled 1,556 international students. An international student at a California Community college raises roughly $11,820 more in two years (with a full schedule) than a state student. Assuming each student stays for the full two years, completing 60 credits, that would amount at Solano Community College to more than $13 million in extra revenue.
Naoki Hirota has emerged as the consultant of choice for California community colleges. Having graduated from a Kentucky university, he’s now living in Japan and is able to recruit actively among students from China, South Korea, Japan and Vietnam, according to a report by California Watch, founded by the Center for Investigative Reporting.
While it seems to make sense, there are those in the academic world who worry that recruiting international students solely for monetary gain could leave educators and college faculty in a tough position when reality hits.
Dr. Ravi Kallur of the University of Missouri at Kansas City School of Medicine released a report, Ethical Practice in community College Recruitment, that deals with that very issue.
“While recruitment of international students may be economically positive (even lucrative) for community colleges, many institutions do not yet provide the support necessary to optimize their recruitment and retention,” Kuller writes.
On top of inadequate services in place to assure that international students feel accepted, and therefore remain at the school through graduation, Kuller explains that hiring outside consultants over in-house recruiters could lead to other issues for the colleges.
“When pressure to increase numbers of international students exceeds available services and resources, institutions run the risk of engaging in unethical practices. For example, many colleges have adopted the practice of employing recruiters who have no affiliation with the institution. Unaware of conditions at the college, these recruiters may falsely promise students everything from airport pickups to scholarships,” Kuller writes, not pointing fingers at a consultation company in particular.
The University of California system, as a whole, has doubled the number of students not originally from the state, who pay higher tuition rates, helping the system’s bottom line. And with federal and state funds being cut, colleges are looking to other revenue sources within their formula to fill in the gap.
A 2011 report in the New York Times detailed the length to which colleges are going to ensure their revenue sources grow through tuition rates. According to a survey conducted by Inside Higher Ed, more than half of admission and recruitment professionals within the public university system were focusing more time and energy toward students not in need of financial aid.
“We institutional pressures mount, between the decreased state funding, the pressure to raise a college’s profile, and the pressure to admit certain students, we’re seeing a fundamental change in the admission process,” director of public policy and research for the National Association for College Admission Counseling, David A. Hawkins, told the New York Times. “Where many of the older admission professionals came in through the institution and saw it as an ethically centered counseling role, there’s now a different dynamic that places a lot more emphasis on marketing.”
Marketing, it seems, is the tool of choice for survival. Without the investment of state and federal government in the two-year system, colleges will have to make a choice between innovative marketing tactics and decreased services for students. Like a business, community colleges sell themselves on their service.
California community colleges, for example, have decreased their course offerings by 20 percent, leaving two-year colleges in a situation that requires increased revenue — from anywhere they can get it.