Massachusetts has arrived, somewhat by accident to be sure, at state funding ratios for the three public higher education segments: University of Massachusetts campuses, the nine state universities and the fifteen community colleges. Not surprisingly funding reflects status; the University of Massachusetts campuses are on top in per student funding, followed by the state universities with the community colleges bringing up the rear. Interestingly, the ratio of state support per FTE student varies in a simple way. Community colleges received $3357 roughly three-fifths of that disbursed to the state university undergraduates and they in turn receive $5267, three-fifths of that given to support the University of Massachusetts students that amounts to $8685.
|Howard Chandler Christy (1873–1952) Scene from the Constitutional Convention. Source: Wikipedia Commons|
That ratio, three-fifths, made me think of a famous three-fifths in American history, the three-fifths compromise during the US Constitutional Convention. That compromise gave the southern states the right to count slaves as three-fifths of person for the purpose of political apportionment in the US Congress, despite the fact that slaves could not be citizens, could not hold property and could not vote.
Clearly we have moved a long way in the five generations since the civil war that abolished slavery. Yet the unequal support of Massachusetts community college students, predominately low to moderate income and many of color, show that we still have a way to go to address old patterns of power and privilege. Is there a justification for the Commonwealth to give less state support to one group of public higher education students compared with others? I look forward to that debate.