Community colleges play an important role in educating students for whom beginning their postsecondary education at a four-year institution is not an option—or not their best option—and providing them with a path to economic mobility. To ensure students from different racial and ethnic groups all have these opportunities, community colleges need equitable funding, but comparing funding levels across groups of students is not straightforward.

Smaller institutions, technical programs within those institutions, and students with weaker academic backgrounds require more resources per student than larger institutions, general studies programs, and students from more privileged backgrounds to produce similar results. In other words, equal funding does not ensure equal opportunity. Inequities in funding levels could result from unequal local property tax revenues, political forces, or formulas allocating state funds. If states want to center equity in their funding formulas, they need to examine the demographic distribution of students across community colleges of different sizes and with different programmatic and geographic characteristics.

Using data from the 2018–19 academic year to estimate per student funding, we investigated whether community colleges that enroll large shares of Black and Hispanic students, as well as students from low-income backgrounds, have the same level of resources as those that enroll more white and higher-income students. Our analysis sought to determine if the most vulnerable students were concentrated in the least-funded community colleges. Though we find no consistent visible patterns of inequality in community college funding across the nation, we do find concerning patterns in a few states.

In many states, there are no measurable differences in average funding levels across demographic groups. In some states, funding levels favor one group, and in other states, that same group receives less funding. In California, funding levels are relatively equal across the groups we studied. But in Virginia, Hispanic students receive 11 percent less funding than others, and in Colorado, they receive 14 percent more.

About one-third of community college funding comes from local, as opposed to state, sources. The exact share varies considerably by state, with local shares in 2018–19 ranging from no local funding in 17 states and less than 10 percent in 3 more, to 94 percent in Arizona and more than 50 percent in 10 others.

Read the full article about funding for community college students by Sandy Baum and Jason Cohn at Urban Institute.