New report suggests Mass. revisit forgotten community college funding formula

Massachusetts Bay Community College (Wikimedia Commons)

By Ellie French
Boston University Statehouse Program

This article was originally published in The Boston Business Journal.

Massachusetts’ community colleges are some of the most poorly funded in the country, but a new report suggests that a funding formula is the solution to ensure adequate money keeps flowing.

The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation’s report published Tuesday at a forum of The Boston Foundation looks at the 2012 effort by Gov. Deval Patrick to use a model that includes enrollment and performance data to set aside community college funds rather than a system based primarily on previous years’ allocations and political considerations.

A funding formula was developed for Massachusetts in late 2012, and used to varying extents in the 2014-2016 fiscal years. In 2014, when the funding formula was first put in place, $35 million was allocated to community colleges, though around $15 million of that went to collective bargaining. That number decreased so steadily that, by 2017, it was down to just $3 million, at which point the formula stopped being used entirely, with the state returning to the previous system, one that does not factor in increasing enrollments.

“The imperfect implementation and phase-out of the funding formula goes down as a missed opportunity to correctly ensure funding flowed to the campuses where high-performing programs are attracting the largest numbers of students,” Paul S. Grogan, president and CEO of The Boston Foundation, said in a statement.

“This report provides valuable insights into the issues that derailed the formula funding effort. We hope it can serve as a spark to reignite discussion of the critical role community colleges play in our workforce, and the resources needed for them to succeed,” Grogan said.

Though it’s been several years since Massachusetts used a funding formula, the report suggests the things that first sparked the need for a formula remain valid: the state’s 15 community colleges play as vital of a role to the state as ever, with more than 100,000 students enrolled, and still today, the allocation of state funding for community colleges is not based on clear goals or a transparent formula.

“The community college funding formula held great promise for distributing funds more rationally and with greater accountability, but we will never know if its intended results were achievable because the formula was not in place for a sufficient amount of time nor did it fully take hold as designed,” Eileen McAnneny, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, said in a statement.

“However, the initial impact was quite promising and in an age of tight budgets with fewer discretionary dollars available, it is worth reviving the formulaic approach to ensure taxpayers are well spent and educational outcomes are attained,” McAnneny said.

And whatever funding formula the state decides on, the report said, should be put into state law, so that unlike former iterations of the formula, which were vulnerable to changes in policy leaders and economic conditions, it will be here to stay.

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