Community colleges made the news several times this week for reasons associated with budget, but with two very different outcomes. In Arizona, USA Today reports the approach of a mainly online community college that has revamped its course texts in “Arizona college cuts textbook costs the old-fashioned way.” Rather than shifting to ebooks to save students from expensive textbooks, Rio Salado College allowed its 26 full-time, on-campus faculty to designate one text for all sections of a course, even those sections taught by the over 1000 off-campus faculty, who have no voice in the matter.
Because of the large numbers of identical books ordered, the college is able to cut a deal with a publisher—in this case Pearson—that saves students a lot of money.
Off campus instructors, all adjuncts, are able to personalize their sections of courses to a certain degree using the course learning management system, but there are serious limitations to this. However, with the change, students still have a physical book and it is estimated that they have saved $6 million in textbook expenses in the 2 1/2 years since the approach began.
It is worth noting that other colleges are moving entirely to ebooks (full disclosure: I’m trained as a reading clinician, and I find that approach problematic), and that the other colleges taking this approach are largely for-profits.
Community colleges are also the subject of a New York Times article “Community Colleges Cutting Back on Open Access.” This article reports on the over-enrollment and underfunding of community colleges that is leaving students who have begun a program—whether to achieve vocational goals or to complete enough courses to transfer into a 4-year program—stopped in their tracks. Course cuts have eliminated some courses that students need, and sometimes there isn’t room in the classes that are offered.
In short, the reality of the community college as an open access institution is failing.
But there are those ready to fill the gap, if they can. The New York Times also reported in “For-Profit Colleges Find New Market Niche” that Kaplan University, a for-profit, is offering those students who want to go to a California community college but have been wait-listed for admission or a class, a chance to take Kaplan online courses with a tuition discount…. a discount that means that the course only costs nearly 10 times as much as it would cost at a California community college. Princeton Review has a similar relationship with a Massachusetts community college, but charges only double the community college rate.
The faculty of the California college voted in the spring to urge that the understanding with Kaplan be withdrawn.