COMING OUT OF THE
a sensible funding proposal would further boost
steady community college graduation rates.
West Virginia received a $25 million U.S.
Department of Labor grant and additional federal
financial assistance during its shortfall years. No
longer having to rely on outside dollars will bolster
strong initiatives like Guided Pathways, which
outlines a cohesive academic trajectory for students
and aligns support services to keep them on track
for timely degree completion, Tucker says.
“What gives me hope is having an influx of
money so we can continue to do what we’re doing,
but do it better,” she says. “When you’re always
scrimping, saving and consolidating, it takes attention off the good work you’re doing.”
Higher education funding is dependent on both
state revenue and resolve from policymakers to
spend it, says Grapevine editor Palmer. Even with
a national economic upsurge, many states have
struggled to sustain income, particularly as economic drivers such as energy and agriculture are
not nearly as lucrative as they once were.
“It’s a state-by-state issue, so there’s 50 different
stories,” says Palmer. “There’s a need to direct what
tax revenues there are available to other obliga-
tions like pension funds. Higher education is in
competition with many other budget demands. The
political will has to be there.”
The Grapevine survey does not account for col-
lege enrollment figures, which also vary from state
to state, says Palmer. Nationally, higher education
enrollment has been sliding for six straight years,
with community colleges undergoing some of the
most significant losses, according to the National
Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
Colleges facing budget issues are finding creative
means to raise funding. Walla Walla Community
College, for example, sells wine to perpetuate its
enology and viticulture program. Meanwhile,
other schools are combining academic and fiscal
resources to make higher education more affordable.
Oklahoma City Community College (OCCC) and
Rose State College partnered this spring to share
campus food services including cafeteria amenities
and catering services. The colleges are currently
discussing the joint purchase of cleaning supplies,
and may combine bids for landscaping and other
yard care services.
OCCC President Jerry Steward says the initiative
is in direct response to a dwindling funding base
that has Oklahoma ranked last in the nation for
higher education state tax support.
“I have a good relationship with the (Rose State)
president, and knew they were having cutbacks,
too,” Steward says. “The Oklahoma State Regents
for Higher Education recommended that colleges
collaborate on purchasing and other areas to save
money. So this joint request for proposal is in line
with that recommendation.”
OCCC has suffered major reductions, including
the closure of its aquatic center and discontinua-
tion of a popular Labor Day arts festival that had
been a community mainstay for 40 years. On June
30, the college closed its Child Development Center
and Lab School, reallocating those resources to
maintain its core educational mission.
“We can’t wait for legislators to solve our
problems—we have to deal with them ourselves,”
says Steward. “It’s been so disheartening to see
things we’ve built for years now being torn away
by reductions in funding.”
That’s not to say OCCC is waiting for state law-
makers to loosen the purse strings. Steward, a former
member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives,
has the ear of elected officials at the state capital
about the benefits of an affordable education.
“I’m not just saying, ‘Give us money,’ but
‘here’s what you get for our money,’” Steward says.
“Legislators are receptive about what we do, but we
need their vote on a bill or budget that shows us that.
For me, that’s a year-round activity that never stops.”
Rose State College
Webb, Gov. Mary
Fallin, OCCC President
Jerry Steward and
Regents for Higher