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Bleak Picture Predicted for Community College Funding

Community colleges basked in the spotlight at the White House earlier this month, reveling in the important role the administration said they would play in the economic recovery. Yet that national publicity has not translated into more funding. Indeed, campuses are stretched, trying to accommodate record numbers of students with less money. And a report released today projects more of the same next year.

Most states surveyed expects an increase in enrollment and a decline in operating budgets will likely be the norm next year, according to Uncertain Recovery: Findings From the 2010 Survey of the National Council of State Directors Of Community Colleges. Enrollment increases averaging 9 percent are predicted in 35 states. To cope with the increases, the report by the Education Policy Center at the University of Alabama found, respondents predicted that tuition would rise at an average of five times the inflation rates at community colleges. At the same time costs go up, student aid is flat-funded or cut in many states.

"The short-term budget picture and the cumulative effects of the deep recessionary cuts over the past several years forecast an austere year ahead that will continue to erode the access mission of the nation's community colleges," writes Janice Friedel, who co-authored the report along with Stephen Katsinas.

Enrollment caps at some public flagship and regional universities, including California which enrolls more than one in four community college students, is pushing more students to community college. All types of community colleges will face fiscal strain, but rural ones will face the greatest, the report found.

Respondents from just 11 states report having a plan once the federal stimulus money ends, and 37 states indicated there would be a budget gap next year. "That speaks to the uncertain recovery," says Katsinas. "It seems in some states the strategy is pray and hope for a state budget recovery."

The most common strategies cited for dealing with budget shortfalls were across-the-board cuts, deferred maintenance, and furloughs.

Respondents from 44 states predict the lack of state revenue will be a major challenge next year; a majority (57%) predict a structural deficit in their state's budget process.

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