Tuesday, March 25, 2014


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.

1 comment:

  1. This is an interesting analysis, especially since, as mentioned, community college students are predominately low to moderate income minorities. The Commonwealth would argue that the student body at all state educational institutions is ethnically reflective of the state's ethnic diversity; ergo, the funding division amongst the three types of educational institutions is either irrelevant or simply reflective of the institution's size.

    However, it is clear that the greatest economic return for the Commonwealth comes from local residents improving their economic standing and quality of life. In economics this is called the multiplier effect; the effect is higher when money stays in the local economy. Community college students are those who are most likely to learn local and stay local; when they improve their wealth & quality of life the local economy grows. UMass students come from states other than the Commonwealth and are more likely to move out-of-state than community college students. Quantitatively, the Commonwealth seems to have its monetary allocation amongst the three educational institutions completely backwards.