Privatization Without Angst

ORLANDO — "My own college behaves much more like a private college these days than a public." Stephen M. Curtis, president of the Community College of Philadelphia, told fellow community college leaders here Sunday that this statement was true of his institution and many others. And he's not ashamed. When talking to elected officials, potential donors and others, "that's a line I use all the time," he said, in a session at the annual meeting of the American Association of Community Colleges.

The steady erosion of state and local support for community colleges is often bemoaned at AACC sessions. Sunday's session, however, was different. Curtis — and his fellow panelist, Rufus Glasper, chancellor of the Maricopa Community Colleges — made clear that they wished that trends had unfolded in different ways. But they said it was time to get over it, and to recognize that community colleges must embrace ideas associated with privatization if they are to succeed in their various missions.

"We have no choice. The state funds are gone forever," said Glasper. Arizona is ahead of most states in withdrawing state support, and Glasper has been making versions of this argument (with regard to Maricopa) for several years. But now the conversation is about community colleges generally, and it's not just Glasper making the case.

Curtis and Glasper said that they decided to speak out based in part on recent discussions among the presidents of institutions that are members of RC-2020, an invitation-only group of urban community colleges that periodically come together for private meetings. The emerging sense in that group, Curtis and Glasper said, is that discussions of community college financing need to be based more on realism than on mourning political trends. Glasper said that Maricopa's high point in terms of state share of its budget was in 1986, when Arizona provided 27 percent of the funds.

Curtis shared a table, showing the evolution of the Community College of Philadelphia budget between 1977-78 and 2010-11. Officially, Pennsylvania policy calls for the budgets of community colleges to be shared equally by three parties: state government, local government and students (through tuition). The table shows the gradual but clear path Pennsylvania has taken away from that philosophy.

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