Workforce Investments: State Strategies to Preserve Higher-Cost Career Education Programs in Community and Technical Colleges

August 2013

The Challenge of Financing High-Cost Career and Technical Education Programs

In today’s highly-skilled economy, rewarding career pathways are available to those who acquire technical skills by enrolling in certificate and associate degree programs in a community or technical college. Such programs are often more costly to offer than liberal arts and sciences programs that prepare students to transfer to four-year institutions to pursue bachelor’s degrees, due to the need for smaller class sizes and specialized equipment and facilities. Many of the higher-cost career and technical education (CTE) programs are in fields and industry sectors that are important to economic growth in most states and regions, such as nursing, allied health, various engineering technologies, and alternative energy. Consequently, it can be challenging for colleges, and the states that fund them, to maintain these programs. When hard fiscal decisions result in diminished offerings of programs that are valuable to students and communities, no one is well-served.

The California Community Colleges (CCC) are facing this problem now, particularly in the aftermath of several years of budget-cutting during the recession. College officials have had to stretch fewer dollars across their program offerings in order to try to meet enrollment targets. Since colleges receive one set dollar amount per full-time-equivalent student (FTES), there is a fiscal disincentive to maintain high-cost programs. There is much anecdotal evidence, and some empirical evidence, that CTE offerings have been disproportionately reduced in recent years. This is troubling to those who recognize the value of technical education to students, to regions, and to the California economy.

This policy brief reports findings of a 20-state study of strategies that may help colleges provide students with access to valuable workforce-oriented programs despite some higher costs. It is intended to help education leaders and policymakers in California continue to work toward realizing the vast potential of the CTE mission of the college system to contribute to student success.

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