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College enrollment caps a threat in many states

Survey says community colleges in 10 states facing space crunch
University Business, December 2013

Leaders at public flagship universities, regional institutions, and community colleges are reporting more capped enrollments than in past years, according to “2013 National Survey of Access and Funding and Issues in Public Higher Education” released last month by the Education Policy Center at The University of Alabama.

Respondents from 10 states say the facilities at their community colleges are insufficient to serve the numbers of current and future high school graduates and returning adults, says the the report, “Halfway Out of Recession, But a Long Way to Go,” which accompanied the survey.

Respondents in six states report worries about providing access to education for all students due to enrollment caps at all three types of public institutions. Access is threatened at some level in 19 states, according to the report.

Particularly troubling is the large number of students enrolled in states with threatened access; 54 percent of the nation’s 15.1 million students enrolled in public institutions attend in these 19 states.

The number of states with enrollment caps has grown at both flagship and regional universities since 2010. In California, Maine, and New Hampshire, state leaders indicated that community colleges were turning students away in 2013.

Capped enrollments stem directly from a lack of state funding, says Stephen Katsinas, director of the Education Policy Center. “The issue is that 26 percent of state budgets go to funding Medicaid,” he says. “As higher education is the largest discretionary budget item, it is the first to receive cuts when Medicaid increases come.”

States with access concerns include large ones such as California, Texas, and Florida, that have high immigration rates. “States with growing Latino populations are facing enrollment cap concerns,” says Katsinas.

Severe funding cuts, like those seen in the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 surveys, were not reported in 2012-2013. “We are moving out of the recession, which is good, but we are still not getting the funding we need for higher education,” says the Center’s Jonathan Koh, a policy and research coordinator.