CATALYST v24n2 - Financing Community Services and Continuing Education: An Historical Review

Volume XXIV, Number 2
Spring 1994

Financing Community Services and Continuing Education: An Historical Review

Shaoli Wang
Graduate Research Assistant
Virginia Tech

Darrel A. Clowes
Associate Professor
Virginia Tech

Community services originally referred to "...the activities, and programs outside the regular instructional program of credit courses" (Lombardi, 1978, p. 14). This concept has broadened since the 1940s and 1950s; today community services is almost synonymous with continuing education and they are no longer two separate concepts and functions. One can look at the main areas community services and continuing education encompass to get an idea of their difference. Community services is distinguished as "the cutting edge through which the college penetrates into community life and through which the total program at the college becomes increasingly more relevant to community needs" (Myran, 1969, p. 7) while continuing education generally refers to "the entire evening program of the college" and also the "work force training and retaining and the life long pursuit of knowledge" (Ireland, Smydra, & Tucker, 1988, p. 2).

Large scale community services and continuing education programs started in junior colleges in the 1920s. Apart from traditional academic courses, a great variety of other courses was available--courses such as Salesmanship, Accounting, Banking, other commercial subjects and special agricultural courses adapted in content and offered at times convenient for local people. A survey in 1928 showed that there were 13 types of extension activities in different junior colleges in 16 states including public lectures and lyceums, institutes, conferences and short courses, class instruction outside of the institution, public information, correspondence courses, PTA or other club service, and home reading courses (Eells, 1931). A junior college failing to contribute to the cultural and recreational needs of the community was considered failing its full opportunity for service. Typical cultural and recreational activities included presentations of dramatic performances, concerts, and lectures on various topics of popular interest. The cultural tone of the local community was affected and life enriched with such activities.

Although community services and continuing education (CS/CE) has a long history of operation and practice in community colleges, it has long suffered an identity problem. Historically, CS/CE is looked upon as an auxiliary or supplementary service mainly because it does not concern the regular full-time student body and the courses and activities are not regularly scheduled but arranged in the "leisure hours." It was not until the 1960s that CS/CE became a significant mission in community colleges.

Community College Financing

The 1960s are generally considered the golden age of American higher education because of strong local, state, and federal support for higher education. Community colleges are rapidly in number and in enrollment during this time. The rapid growth was significantly enhanced by the National Defence Education Act of 1958, the Higher Education Facilities Act of 1963, and the Higher Education Act of 1965. These acts respectively authorized grants and funds to strengthen instruction and teacher training, to purchase new educational equipment, and to offer substantial assistance in the form of student loans, fellowships, and graduate teaching fellowships. By 1970 federal grants and loans amounted to $4.42 billion, a fourfold growth over 1960. More than 500 two-year colleges have opened their doors since 1960, and enrollment has increased more than tenfold (Quay & Olevnik, 1984). Community colleges are regarded as cultural centers and helpful community institutions that provide services to meet local needs. Community services and continuing education gained increased status until it was finally recognized as a principal function and mission of the community colleges and achieved "center stage" attention. Some leaders in education even held the opinion that CS/CE should be primary among all the functions of the community colleges (Gleazer, 1980). By the late 1970s part-time enrollments often equaled the full-time student registrations and the proportion of traditional college-age students in the community college student population had declined considerably. The decline in the traditional college-aged population and the rapid expansion in noncredit instructional programs through community services led to a shift in emphasis within community colleges' overall missions. CS/CE had come to the forefront.

The 1970s saw the passing of the golden age; it was replaced by a bleak financial picture for American higher education. Federal money shifted to other priorities and as many states faced revenue short falls, state support began a steady decline. The rapid growth of community colleges slowed. By the mid-1970s, retrenchment and reduction were the norm in virtually all of American higher education. CS/CE experienced an especially hard time because it is usually the first to feel the impact of economic difficulties.

Institutions of higher education historically receive funds on a per-student basis and community colleges are not exception. There is no one funding model for CS/CE. Some states fund on a per-credit hour basis, some on a full-time equivalent (FTE) student basis. Some states allot funds on a per-faculty basis but this comes from a faculty-student ratio, and in some cases, community colleges get funding according to the number of degrees awarded. There is, however, one constant. The majority of states fund credit courses much higher than they do noncredit courses. Noncredit activities do not fit the traditional model of state support for degree oriented, hence credit bearing, course work. Zoglin (as cited in Spaid & Parsons, 1988) reports that CS/CE encompasses mainly noncredit educational programs in the form of seminars, short courses, lectures, workshops, forum series, institutes, conferences, and other activities/classes. If that is so, the current system of funding based on numbers of full-time students equivalents in credit courses puts CS/CE at a financial disadvantage. The revenue formulas in many state simply exclude noncredit programs from state support.

Historically the federal government provides sponsorship for project research and financial assistance to student enrollment in all institutions while the state and local governments subsidize instructional costs and capitol expenditures. In recent years state governments have become the primary source of support for community colleges. Local governments have retreated more and more from support for 2-year institutions (see Table 1), although the state of Mississippi is an exception. Table 1 shows the shifting pattern of state support and the reduced level of local support for community colleges.

Table 1
Comparison of State Support, Local Support, and Student Fees for Community Colleges in 1929, 1968, 1980, 1990, and 1992

1929* 1969* 1980* 1990** 1992*** (Range)***
State Support 3% 51% 66% 50.3% 49.5% 32.5%-60.0%
Local Support 46% 21% 7% 10.1% 10.6% 0.0%-25.9%
Student Fees 49% 20% 17% 17.9% 22.5% 15.7%-30.5%
Data Sources:
* Wattenbarger & Bibby, 1981
** Dickmeyer & Cirino, 1991
*** Dickmeyer & Cirino, 1993

Continuing Education/Community Services Financing

A survey 23 states conducted in Fall 1976 showed that over half of the states did not support community services noncredit courses (Sanchez, 1976). A survey conducted in spring of 1987 determined that 80% of the surveyed community colleges must be self-supporting for their noncredit courses. North Carolina must be 100% self-supporting for any recreational courses and in Virginia CS/CE must be 130% self-supporting to cover operating and overhead costs. Avocational and recreational programs in Florida are required to be self-supporting (Spaid & Parsons, 1988). In 1988 a survey of 34 states showed that 12 of the states surveyed provided no support for either the noncredit certificate, lifelong learning, or recreation/leisure programs of the community colleges, In another eight states two of the three categories are 100% self-supporting. Only Indiana supported recreation/leisure programs while five states partly support lifelong learning programs. The survey also showed that 13 states did provide some state support for noncredit certificate programs. Among these, state support for noncredit certificate programs is as high as 90% in North Carolina. Maryland supports noncredit programs at approximately the same rate per full-time equivalent (FTE) as credit programs. Mississippi is the only state where the local governments fund 100% of noncredit, life learning and recreation/leisure programs for community colleges (Wattenbarger & Mercer, 1988).

A recent survey of current funding practices for community services and continuing education in 13 states yielded similar results (see Table 2).

Table 2
Summary of the 1994 Survey About State Funding for Community Services and Noncredit Continuing Education Courses

States Community Services
(Recreational Leisure)
State Support
Community Services
(Recreational Leisure)
Self Support
Continuing Education
State Support
Continuing Education
Self Support
Alabama 0 100% 0 100%
California 0 100% 9 areas**
Connecticut 0 100% 0 100%
Florida 0 100% 90% 10%
Georgia 0 100% 0 100%
Illinois $0.79/credit* 100% Partially
Iowa 0 100% 0 100%
Maryland 0 100% Partially
Minnesota 0 100% Partially
North Carolina 0 100% Partially
Pennsylvania 0 100% 100%
South Carolina 0 100% Partially
Virginia 0 100% indirect cost*** 100%

Data Source: Kaufman, (in press, this issue)
* The amount of funding is so low that some colleges give up application for funding and the courses are fully supported by participant fees.
** The nine areas are Parenting, ESL, Elementary & Secondary Basic Skills, Courses for Older Adults, Short-Term Vocational,, Courses for the Disabled, Health and Safety, Home Economics, and Citizenship.
*** Virginia is among the five states that receive no state support for noncredit courses.

Since state revenue often fails to materialize, there is a growing trend for CS/CE programs to be self-supporting. Fund raising becomes the objective of many CS/CE programs. The income generating activities mainly include instructional offerings (short-term, noncredit, and recreational classes, etc.), permits and leases for community use of campus facilities, and inclusion of CS/CE classes in a state funding formula. Self-supporting programs do not necessarily rely solely on user or participant fees. In the states of Texas, Florida, Illinois, and Michigan, CS/CE programs achieved their self-supporting status by utilizing state funds since the state funding formula assists certain programs (Ireland & Simpson, 1984). A group of community colleges established a task force to look for new income generation sources. According to a 1987 survey, 39% of the community colleges referred to their programs as "profit centers: since they not only raise funds for themselves but also for other programs or activities. Thirty-six percent of the surveyed community colleges reported they had leftover funds at the end of every fiscal year (Spaid & Parson, 1987). As a result, the emphasis of CS/CE programming at many community colleges is placed on the generation of income.

However, becoming self-supporting is not a panacea for the financial problems of CS/CE. "Reliance on participant fees fails to provide a stable funding base," and "the mandate to be self-supporting is seen as the major threat to the strength of the community services and continuing education function in meeting work force and community needs" (Ireland, Smydra, & Tucker, 1988, p. 3). While there are instances of successful self-supporting programs, in most cases self-support is a constraint and a burden. People are concerned about the unstable funding base. Another concern is the state funding policy, which favors traditional programs over CS/CE. Community service and continuing education programs have served and will continue to serve an assortment of community and individual needs. If CS/CE is to be a dynamic function of community colleges, state funding policy must provide more encouragement and support. Recommendations for more stable and supportive funding systems have been made "based on total enrollments and service rather than the current FTE-based, enrollment-equivalent driven process" (Gilder, 1981, p. 6). These must be addressed if CS/CE is to serve its role in the community college and fulfill its rich promise.


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Dickmeyer, N., & Cirino, A. M. (1993). Comparative financial statistics for public two-year colleges: FY 1992 national sample. (ERIC Document Reproduction Center No. ED 354 939)

Eells, W. C. (1931). The junior college. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Gilder, J. (1981). State policy on lifelong education: special concerns of community colleges. The Community Services Catalyst, 11(1).

Gleazer, E. J., Jr. (1980) The community college: Values, vision & vitality. Washington, DC: American Association of Community anad Junior Colleges.

Ireland, J, & Simpson, J. (1984). The concept of self-supporting community services programs. The Community Services Catalyst, 14(4).

Ireland, J., Smydra, M., & Tucker, N. S. (1988). A policy statement of the National Council on Community Services and Continuing Education. The Educational Resources Information Center.

Kaufman, R. S. (in press). State funding for community college non-credit continuing education courses. The Community Services Catalyst, 24(2).

Lombardi, J. (1978). Community services: a status report. The Community Services Catalyst, 8(2).

Myran, G. A. (1969). Community services in the community college. Washington, DC: American Association of Junior Colleges.

Quay, R. H., & Olevnik, P. P. (1984). The financing of American higher education: A bibliographic handbook. Phoenix: ORYX Press.

Sanchez, B. (1976). Financing community service programs.The Community Services Catalyst, 9(3).

Spaid, R. L., & Parsons, M. H. (1988). New targets of opportunity: Broadening funding for non-credit programs. The Community Services Catalyst, 18(3).

Wattenbarger, J. L., & Mercer, S. L. (1988). Financing community colleges. American Association of Community and Junior Colleges.

Tracy Gilmore