Three innovative ways community colleges can plan for and fund non-degree workforce programs

Community colleges can reduce student costs and better fund non-degree workforce programs through priority-based funding models, asset monetization, and full-cost budgeting.
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May 24, 2022

Enrollment declines are putting financial pressure on community colleges at a time when they need to innovate to contribute to the economic recovery.

Simultaneously, more workforce-oriented colleges and their employer partners are exploring how more affordable quality non-degree (credit and non-credit) workforce programs, such as certificates, industry certifications, apprenticeships, and bootcamps, could attract students back to school.

But financing the start-up and operational costs of non-degree workforce programs has proven to be a major challenge for colleges. It’s clear that policy changes are needed to support these programs at community colleges, but colleges and students can’t wait for the government.

We need action now. That’s why as part of our New Models for Career Preparation project, we’re unpacking how community colleges can use innovative financing models to support the start up and delivery of these programs. We have come across three promising strategies – priority-based funding models, real estate asset monetization, and full-cost budgeting.

Priority-based budgeting: Make tough decisions that do right by students

Broward College in Fort Lauderdale implemented a priority-based funding and budget model. Approved by the board in 2020 at the height of COVID-19, the model is meant to ensure that budgeting decisions are made based on data and facilitate equity by centering student success in the financial planning process.

Broward made what it deemed to be several difficult but necessary decisions including defunding its athletic programs, its early childhood learning center, and unused event spaces to free up funds for other important priorities. Through a series of town hall meetings and office hours with President Haile, the college consulted and informed employees across the institutions about the reallocation of resources.

The athletic program served only 147 students, but the cost per athlete was $11,009 while Broward’s learning center served the children of 36 students and one college employee at a cost per student of $855.

Using priority-based funding, Broward halved its academic advisor-to-student ratio, embedded tutoring in 350 courses that had the highest failure rates, and established food pantries on each of its campuses. The food pantries were created in response to a student survey in which 28 percent of respondents noted food insecurities pre-pandemic which skyrocketed to 72 percent during the peak of the pandemic.

Broward’s new interventions impacted all 63,000 students enrolled at the college compared to the 183 students and one staff served before the changes were implemented.

Broward isn’t alone in leveraging priority-based funding. County College of Morris, one of our New Models for Career Preparation grantees, used a similar approach to sunset its “avocational” or personal development courses and re-allocate resources towards workforce programs.

In an era of financial restraints, if everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. We’ve observed that community colleges, especially those that prioritize workforce development, are thinking innovatively about how to maximize the impact of their often limited budgets.

Asset monetization: Leveraging underutilized land to generate revenue to support student programming

Like many colleges across the country, Broward has for the last decade faced declining enrollment and funding allocations from the state legislature. Broward found a clever way to leverage its prime real estate in Fort Lauderdale, Florida to generate unrestricted funds to support the financial stability of the college.

Broward has identified several real estate assets throughout its campuses and centers that can be put to higher and better use through partnerships with developers to meet its facility needs and generate revenue for the college. Recent examples include their Miramar West Center to meet its needs for additional learning locations, and their Downtown Center and Central Campus to generate revenue for student support. Miramar West was leased to a real estate developer, and the developer, in turn, built a 90,000-square-foot facility. Broward benefitted from the new facility at no cost. Through a 99-year-long lease with a developer at its Downtown Center, Broward is bringing in $2 million a year, and a similar agreement is being finalized at its Central Campus.

As another example, Rouge Community College has used its facilities master-planning process to figure out a way to look at excess or vacated land in order to sell or lease the land.Annette Parker, President of South Central College, confirmed that such a strategy is also valuable for rural colleges that may not be located in a high-dollar metropolitan area. South Central has leased vacant land to the city government for youth athletics, generating revenue and also increasing the college’s awareness and brand among underserved communities.

Full cost: Taking into account the entire cost of non-degree college offerings when budgeting

Community colleges should also consider budgeting for the entire cost of their non-degree programs including things like support services or data collection and analysis.

These “full cost” calculations can be a powerful advocacy tool to guide discussions around resource allocation for non-degree programs both internally--with faculty, leadership, boards, and staff, and externally-- with funders, employers, unions, alumni, and economic and community development partners.

Most non-degree program staff at community colleges are not accustomed to naming the resources they need to do their work because they have been conditioned not to do so. This is because many community colleges operate in a system where governments and local businesses often underinvest in them, creating an environment of resource scarcity.

As a result, many program leaders are accustomed to “taking what they can get” and “making it work,” and thus do not account for the range of financial resources that it takes to maintain a healthy program within a healthy college. Using a full cost budgeting tool, program and college leaders can understand what resources the program needs to adapt and thrive and thus make a compelling case for those resources to be provided (a technical assistance video for colleges can be found here).

Using a combination of these three strategies, colleges can generate more resources to make their non-degree workforce programs more affordable for students as well as more resilient and responsive to economic changes. Reliable, flexible funding that covers the entire cost of quality program design and delivery will go a long way to helping rebuild our economy.

Interested in staying up to date with New America's New Models for Career Preparation project? Subscribe to the Center on Education and Labor's newsletter the Ed & Labor Bulletin and follow Iris and Shalin on Twitter @IrisonHigherEd and @ShalinJyotishi.

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Related Topics
Workforce Development & CTE