Terry McAuliffe says students at Virginia’s 23 community colleges have taken a hit from state budget cuts.
"In our community college system, cuts have reduced funding per student by $1,908," the Democratic gubernatorial nominee says on his campaign website.
We wondered whether McAuliffe’s figure is correct.
McAuliffe’s website says state funding per community college student fell from $4,418 in 2008 to $2,510 in 2012 -- a $1,908 drop.
Josh Schwerin, a McAuliffe campaign spokesman, told us the numbers came from State Council on Higher Education for Virginia figures on instructional spending and the campaign adjusted them to 2012 dollars. The numbers reflect the amount spent per in-state community college student from Virginia’s general fund, which is raised from taxes.
We found two glitches in McAuliffe’s calculation. First, his figures include Richard Bland College, a two-year institution that’s not part of the 23-school community college system.
The second problem was that we could not reproduce McAuliffe’s calculations when we did our own math with SCHEV data. That’s because not all of McAuliffe’s numbers were adjusted to 2012 dollars, as Schwerin said. We learned that the campaign adjusted some of the data to 2014 dollars.
So what are the real numbers? We got our own data from SCHEV and set all the figures in 2012 dollars. We found that adjusted general fund spending was about $4,275 per in-state community college student during the 2007-08 school year and $2,583 during the 2011-12 year.
That’s a decline of $1,692 per student -- somewhat shy of McAuliffe’s $1,908 figure.
Another part of McAuliffe’s statement also needs examination. He attributes the reduction to budget cuts, but that’s not the entire reason.
State lawmakers, seeking to keep the budget balanced during and after the Great Recession, cut all major services supported by the general fund: education, health and public service. Appropriations for the community college system for instructional programs fell from $372.5 million for the 2007-08 school year to $316.2 million in 2011-12.
During the same span, the number of people attending community colleges sharply rose -- from
101,889 full-time equivalent students during 2007-08 to 129,652 in 2011-12, according to figures from the Virginia Community College System. About 95 percent of the students were Virginia residents, according to Jeffrey Kraus, a spokesman for the system. Much of the increase, he said, was driven by the recession as workers entered community colleges to train for second careers and younger students sought a more affordable higher education than attending a four-year college.
So state funding was falling while the student population was rising. The community colleges addressed the strain by raising tuition -- from an average of $2,390 for an in-state student during the 2007-08 school year to $3,556 in 2011-12.
Finally, we should note that 2011-12 is the latest school year for which SCHEV has firm numbers for the number of people attending community colleges and the state’s support for each student.
McAuliffe said budget cuts reduced state spending per in-state community college student by $1,908 between 2008 and 2012.
There are mistakes in his calculation that inflate his figure. The actual decline was just shy of $1,700 per student.
McAuliffe’s statement attributed the reduction to state budget cuts. That’s a plausible contention because the General Assembly, combating an economic turndown, slashed community college funding by 15 percent during the years in question. But that’s not the entire story. What McAuliffe didn’t mention is that the budget cuts were compounded by a 27 percent increase in enrollment in community colleges and those two events combined to cause the steep drop in per-student funding.
So McAuliffe’s statement needs clarifications but his gist -- that during an era of budget cutting, state funding per community college student significantly shrank -- holds up. We rate his claim Mostly True.