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My previous post “Prediction One elicited a comment from Dr. Alfredo Cuellar who is Dean of a community college in the Imperial Valley of California. He wrote:

We at Imperial Valley College, are facing draconian cuts. We are supposed to leave almost 2,000 students without classes. The community is urging us for creative solutions. Can you suggest some alternatives? What about a “Charter College”? How this “charter” new college should function? What linking should it has to the community college (IVC)?

If public community colleges, which are a form of the Traditional University (TUs), were funded (by the state) in the same way as the privately owned 2-year colleges (by student credit hour) then TUs could serve the needs of their constituents. Even when the state has a limited budget and thus the amount of their share (per student credit hour) would decrease, under a demand-driven system TUs could still welcome more students. All you would have to do is create some efficiencies by pursuing market-driven strategies.

I think the main difference between a Charter school and a public school in California is that the first is a demand-driven system and the second is a supply-driven system. If that’s the case in California, being a Charter would give you flexibility.

Community Colleges in California are in a “supply” budgeting system, i.e., additional enrollment is not subsidized by the state. Without sufficient funding, administrators are forced to reduce services, e.g., accept fewer students, dismiss youngest faculty, and eliminate some programs, “the usual suspects”. This is utterly ridiculous. Here you have potential students who want to go to college and you would have to say no to 2,000 of them, imagine taking that position inside a CU. Never happen.

You also have the responsibility for economic development in your region through education, turning down 2,000 students is the last thing you want to do in a place like Imperial Valley which must undergo a technological transformation in order to survive and develop. If you were a CU you would look at the student’s needs and satisfy those using their money, either up front or though loans, and scholarship support from potential employers

One of the crucial differences between TUs and CUs is that the later are cognizant of their costs and assess their productivity regularly. When I began my career as an assistant professor, I used to be in a budget committee where we never asked the question, “Is this an efficient way to spend our money?” After about a year of self-enforced silence I spoke up and said. “I think there are more efficient ways to do this…” The senior member of the committee looked at me quizzically and said “In here we leave efficiency to IBM, don’t you know.”

We still think of “efficiency” as a bad word, an accountant’s view of the magic; if one is efficient how can one be humane? We fail to consider the inhumanity of not being able to serve the students who have prepared themselves to go to college and are indeed the future of this nation. College students may only be 5 percent of this nation, but they are 100 percent of its future.

We must come to understand that efficient, entrepreneurial, strategic ways to spend money will keep TUs open and thriving and serving the needs of those in whose future the U.S. will depend.

In an earlier blog (moving in) I discussed the next strategic step for community college improvement of service to survive competition. I see two main areas of economic efficiency community colleges can perform.

First they can partner with K-12 systems to provide on campus programs for students who are bored and unchallenged by their high schools. AP programs are not new but they must become the norm. These programs bring HS students to your campus where, after HS, they would seamlessly transfer to the community college. Next, community colleges need to partner with 4-year institutions. The 4-year institution would establish their programs on the community college campus and without leaving your campus, eventually transition these student to the 4-year institution. If you let high schools and colleges “move in” the community college becomes an essential link in the chain, which is itself more efficient at producing baccalaureates.

At the same time, community colleges need to pay attention to new and emerging employment opportunities for students who will not continue on to a baccalaureate. If Charter College also means less regulation, training programs in partnership with employers, should lead to new, more effective, less costly training programs. Community colleges must not limit these training programs to “local” employers. These partnerships should be developed with employers who are in need of a steady supply of business-ready technical workers you can provide.

I don’t know your campus but in my experience most community colleges are not equipped to do what I just suggested. Fear of failure, lack of entrepreneurial experience, lack of management information systems and the rigidity of budget allocation processes, will all stymie these partnerships. To compound the problem, private sector providers have already occupied many of the niches that community colleges could target.

It may also be the case that the successive rounds of cuts have not been well executed. Perhaps some muscle and brains were cut along with the fat. If that’s the case then it is time to reconfigure the organization in response to the goal of meeting the educational objectives faster, cheaper and better.

In a supply-driven system, colleges are at the mercy of political forces that determines how much the school has to spend. In a leap of faith we can assume that the California economy is likely to be performing well by the 2012 election and your college may have by then recuperated much of what was cut. Be careful.

Where public institutions usually go wrong is that they fail to invest their the new money in a dynamic market-oriented strategic plan. For me the best plan for you would be one that builds upon the concept of creating a “chain” of services in which your institution is an essential link (If you succeed at doing that), then you will have placed your school in a more “market-driven” path, not without problems and bumps on the road, but more dependent on your individual effort and skill than on political forces.

In a market driven system, these partnerships will drive the creation of new academic programs and courses, new technological delivery systems, new web-based communication and production systems that would lower your cost per unit and limit your overhead costs. Partnerships are also the kind of programs foundations and donors finance –new academic programs, partnerships, equipment, and systems technology.

Although you would be performing like a private school, you are still a public charity. Since you are doing something important, that is becoming a “bridge over troubled waters”, Oprah will give you some money and before then, Gates and Lumina would like to help you build these bridges based on comprehensive partnership planning.

My British colleague likes to say “easier envisioned than enacted” easier said than done.