October 6, 2010 4:57PM

Enough Community College PDA

Yesterday, President Obama hosted the White House Summit on Community Colleges, and in‐​your‐​face love was in the air. President Obama and Second Lady Jill Biden, a community college professor, couldn’t keep their hands off their signficant other, lavishing all sorts of praise on their favorite little schools.

Swooned Dr. Biden about the dreamy things community colleges do for their students:

They are students like the mother who shared her experience with us on the White House website of working towards a degree while raising three children and straddling financial challenges. Now employed and the holder of a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree, she wrote, “Community colleges didn’t just change my life, they gave me my life.”

Community colleges do that every day. 


The President, too, couldn’t hide his affection:

So I think it’s clear why I asked Jill to travel the country visiting community colleges -– because, as she knows personally, these colleges are the unsung heroes of America’s education system. They may not get the credit they deserve. They may not get the same resources as other schools. But they provide a gateway to millions of Americans to good jobs and a better life.

Like the guy with the locker next to Mr. and Mrs. Lovebird, all I can say is “oh, come on!”

Community colleges might be a good option for some people, but they are hardly paragons of educational success. Quite the opposite: According to the U.S. Department of Education, they have the worst graduation rates of any two‐​year sector of higher education. Only around 22 percent of public, two‐​year college students graduate within three years, versus roughly 49 percent of private, not‐​for‐​profit attendees and about 59 percent of private, for‐​profit students.

Wait! What’s that? Private, for‐​profit institutions outperform super‐​cute community colleges…by a lot? But they’re the ugliest, meanest, least popular kids in schoolNobody likes them!

Oh, I know what’s going on here! For‐​profit schools cost a lot more than community colleges, right? That’s why they’re so disliked.

That’s true if you look at tuition prices. But community colleges get big subsidies from government, especially state and local taxpayers. So they might actually cost a lot, it’s just that they sneak the money out of your back pocket and then congratulate themselves for charging students so little. 

When you look at government expenditures per‐​pupil, including aid to schools and students, it becomes clear that community colleges are, in fact, just as mean and greedy as for‐​profits. Indeed, former Clinton administration economist Robert Shapiro has calculated that they are actually more costly to taxpayers than for‐​profit schools (see table 24). According to his calculations, two‐​year public schools cost taxpayers $6,919 per student, while private, for‐​profits cost just $3,628. 

No wonder the summit turned my stomach! At the same time the administration and its allies in Congress are bashing for‐​profit schools, the President has a love fest with community colleges that are generally much worse. Unfortunately, it leaves you concluding that for‐​profits could walk on water and it wouldn’t matter: As long as they’re honest about trying to make a buck, they’ll be beaten up in the parking lot and never invited to any of the cool summits.