More students attend community colleges than four-year institutions. In the Tampa Bay area, for example, the combined student population of St. Petersburg College and Hillsborough Community College is nearly 62,000, while the combined undergraduate total of the University of South Florida and the University of South Florida St. Petersburg is roughly 35,000.
Such numbers alone reflect the community colleges' significance. President Barack Obama, a Harvard graduate and a law professor at the University of Chicago, lauds the essential role of community colleges in preserving the nation's economic competitiveness in the world.
Logic would suggest that the financial viability of community colleges would be a top priority for every legislator at every level. Not so. Community colleges, also called state colleges in Florida, remain the stepchildren of higher education, and lawmakers continue to shortchange them. Why is this, when one of the successful missions of the schools is to provide postsecondary education to low-income and minority students who might not otherwise obtain it?
Although the answer is clear, it feels oddly un-American. Eduardo Padrón, president of Miami Dade College, the nation's largest postsecondary institution, said, "The have-nots, history has taught us, have no political power, and with no political power, you get less resources." Padrón is a leading member of the Century Foundation Task Force on Preventing Community Colleges from Becoming Separate and Unequal. The task force is funded by the Ford Foundation, and it has been charged with finding ways to bridge the divide between the two higher education sectors.