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Community College Economics for Policymakers: The One Big Fact and the One Big Myth

By: Clive Belfield & Davis Jenkins

Abstract

Community College Economics for Policymakers: The One Big Fact and the One Big Myth

In reviewing broad policy trends in postsecondary education, particularly as they apply to community colleges, this paper juxtaposes one big fact and one big myth. The one big fact is that the economic returns to college are very high. The one big myth is that the college affordability crisis is actually an efficiency crisis caused by wasteful spending by colleges. Neglect of this fact and acceptance of this myth have impaired policymaking, resulting in reduced state funding and new practices (more adjuncts, larger classes, online courses) that cut spending and lower quality.

The paper argues that the direction of policy should therefore be shifted. Students should be provided with more information about how to maximize their returns to college. Colleges should implement practices that enhance quality. While spending will necessarily increase, making genuine quality enhancements should increase efficiency as well.