With so many students depending on community college as their best—and sometimes only—option for higher education, it’s time for community colleges to get their fair share of education funds. While these schools enroll 53 percent of all undergraduate students at public institutions, they receive only about 25 percent of the federal funding available.
This disparity in funding between two- and four-year institutions hurts all students, but it is particularly harmful to women, who make up the majority of students at community colleges. Imagine what additional funding could do to help the four million women currently enrolled in community colleges. AAUW’s recent report, “Women in Community Colleges: Access to Success,” identifies promising programs that, if funded, would improve women’s lives in and beyond the classroom.
More than a million students who are mothers attend community college. Unfortunately, students with children are more likely to drop out of school, and when they do, they cite their caregiving responsibilities as a main reason. Affordable child care is critical to the success of these women that balance motherhood and education. But only about half of all community colleges offer on-campus child care, and those that do often don’t have enough available slots to meet demand.
Referral services that help students find off-campus child care are useful, but on-campus child care gives students the peace of mind of knowing that their children are nearby. Funding for the Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) program, the primary source of federal money for on-campus child care, has declined by 36 percent—from $25 million to $16 million—since 2001. With less funding, fewer students have access to this critical service.
Community colleges are also distinctly disadvantaged by the way CCAMPIS funds are distributed. The program’s funding formula is tied to tuition costs, so four-year schools receive roughly double the amount of child-care funding that community colleges do, even though more community college students have children.
Having access to child care helps many women stay the course through graduation, but it is also important for women to earn degrees in fields that put them on a path to more economically stable and secure futures. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields often provide better wages and job opportunities compared with non-STEM fields. Although women earn the majority of degrees and certificates awarded by community colleges, they earn only a small share of STEM degrees.
Women in community colleges need better support and information to earn degrees in nontraditional fields, including STEM, and career and technical education. Additional academic and career advising, tutoring, and other kinds of assistance increase the chances that women will persist in these subjects and graduate. Without this support, fewer women will be able to pursue these high-demand, high-wage careers.
Community colleges also need better data collection and reporting systems to help them make a stronger case for increased funding. Currently, the major federal data source, the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), does not report outcomes for the part-time students who are the majority in community colleges. Nor does IPEDS consistently track students who transfer from community colleges to four-year institutions. This lack of data means that we don’t have an accurate picture of how government funding should be allocated for two- and four-year schools.
The United States must invest more in community colleges. Increased funding for CCAMPIS grants and other kinds of support ensures that all students, particularly mothers and women, have the opportunity to pursue their educational goals. Moreover, with these resources in place, women can reach their fullest educational and economic potential.
Linda Hallman is the executive director of the American Association of University Women.