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Lack of Funding and Planning Hurts College Access, Completion

Continued state budget cuts, increased enrollment, rising tuition, and lack of long-term planning paint a dim picture for higher education in a new report released today from the University of Alabama's Education Policy Center.

"It seems like an almost impossible task to increase the college-completion agenda," says Janice Friedel, associate professor in the community college leadership program at Iowa State University and co-author of the report, Challenging Success: Can College Degree Completion Be Increased as States Cut Budgets? along with Stephen G. Katsinas of the University of Alabama and Mark M. D'Amico of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Lack of planning for how to deal with the current fiscal crisis was widespread among many of the National Council of State Directors of Community Colleges members surveyed this year for the report. Just four of 51 respondents indicate a long-term plan
exists to fund operating budgets needed to increase numbers of adults with college
degrees/certificates. And three of 51 said there was a long-term plan to fund capital budgets to support an increase.

To deal with the burgeoning demand, 16 report state directors reported de facto enrollment caps implemented at community colleges, while three of the five largest states
report their public flagship and regional universities had raised admission standards to
limit transfers.

The bottom line: By a 2-to-1 margin, state leaders said graduation-rate increases will be difficult to achieve, due to cost-cutting.

This lean environment may mean it's more difficult for freshman college students to get into the programs they want and progress in a timely fashion, says Friedel. While discouraging, the message for high school students with their eyes on college is to be more savvy.

"Look for those strategies available to work with community colleges and high schools to enhance your preparation to do college-level work," she says. While still in high school, amass college credit through AP courses and other programs. Also, try to determine a career focus before coming to campus so you don't have to waste credits sampling a variety of classes, says Friedel.

Some colleges are working with high schools to administer placement tests to sophomores to determine if students are ready for college-level work. If help is needed, they can get up to speed while still in high school to avoid remedial courses in college, she adds.

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