Back in 2009, Slate published an article by Christopher Beam on President Obama’s proposed $12 billion federal budget allocation to help revive the country’s community colleges. To quote from the article:
“Too often, community colleges are treated like an afterthought—if they’re thought of at all,” Obama said in his speech. Right now, somewhere between one-third and one-half of American undergrads are at community colleges, depending how you count. Yet community colleges receive only 20 percent of federal funding. “We’ve been so focused on the quality and reputation of our lead institutions” at the expense of community colleges, says Thomas Bailey of the Community College Research Center at Columbia University. (That’s right: Not even the community college research center is based at a community college.)
Well, that was in 2009. The proposed allocation never made it out of Congress, and today community colleges are facing ever-higher state budget cuts at a time when we’re servicing more students than ever. Five years ago, the state provided 60 percent of our funding; today, it provides just 40 percent, and we’re facing 13-percent cuts to our budget in the next fiscal year.
Politicians from the President on down continue to laud the important role that community colleges must play in any economic recovery that might take root in this country. Our commitment to open enrollment, our reasonable tuition rates (even in light of coming tuition hikes), and our willingness to see our students through whatever remedial classes they might need before they begin college-level coursework–these are the things that will help train our community members for the jobs of the future. But the question needs to be asked: At what point does our budget get stretched so thin that it snaps and breaks?
Well, this is an unexpected turn of events. After months–years, even–of threatened 15% across-the-board state budget cuts, Gov. Gigi announced today that she had recently won the Megamillions lottery and was donating her winnings to “the long-suffering community colleges of our fair state.” After taxes, her winnings should total approximately $98.3 million, enough to cover the budget gap at every college in the state without resorting to the previously planned 13% tuition hike.
Pres. Bob Bishop expressed both relief and gratitude for Gigi’s gift. “It really seems like a miracle to have this happen at the eleventh hour,” he said. “Either that, or something a staff member would fantasize about on her lunch break.”