Steve Rose

Community colleges widely embraced

Johnson County Community College is among government institutions that ultra-conservatives actually enjoy.
Johnson County Community College is among government institutions that ultra-conservatives actually enjoy. The Kansas City Star

In the one-dimensional worldview of an ultraconservative in Kansas, government can do no good.

However, there is one form of local government that ultraconservative legislators actually admire. It is a lonely list of one.

First, we can easily rattle off what it is not. We know it isn’t K-12 public schools, where conservatives believe almost everything is done wrong, from top to bottom.

It isn’t county government, where it is believed too much is spent. It isn’t city government, where there are supposed to be great inefficiencies.

It certainly isn’t universities, which are for “elitists.” We know government programs for the poor, like Medicaid, were taken out of the hands of government and privatized, i.e. KanCare.

Alas, there seems to be but one bastion of state or local government that pleases conservatives. Even more miraculously, it pleases almost everyone else, as well. That is the community college.

The community college offers a conservative’s near-perfect idea of government success. It has grassroots training, without frills, that can be applied to the real world at a low cost to students and taxpayers.

Voila! A lot of practical knowledge is imparted at a community college. Many of the instructors, particularly those who work in the career programs, usually once worked in the field themselves.

All 19 of the community colleges in Kansas are connected to the communities they serve. Those who think of them as “junior colleges” are missing the point. Although many of the students do go on to four-year universities, community colleges have become far more than a stepping stone. One of their primary missions is career enhancement for those already in the workforce. And the real bonus: All of this is achieved at a bargain price.

But even at only $93 a credit hour, which is what it is at Johnson County Community College, most students need to work while they learn. What could be more pleasing to a conservative than that? Sacrifice and toil makes for better citizens with better values. Probably, most of us would agree with that.

It’s easy to understand why the community colleges, which get considerable funding from the state, have not been threatened with large funding cuts, such as the budget slashing at the state universities in Kansas. It is, in part, because community colleges are, by nature, lean operations.

That does not mean leaders in the community colleges take their state funding for granted. There have been no significant recent increases in state funding. And to be prudent, in this age of uncertainty, leaders in community colleges like Johnson County budget for a decrease in state funding, just in case.

Ultraconservatives would have all forms of government operate just like community colleges.

What folly.

Community colleges happen to have a vital mission that lends itself to extreme efficiency and often immediately tangible outcomes.

Most government programs obviously have larger and/or longer-term goals.

Yet, ultraconservatives hold these other government services to the same fantastical standards.

So, while we can all celebrate and agree upon the splendid role our community colleges play, we should all recognize that they are special.

And, anyway, the success of community colleges blow up the core belief of ultraconservatives that government can never be efficient.

Why assume that such sound governance doesn’t extend to other programs, as well?

The difference is in the unique mission of the community college, rather than the false premise that competent government, for some reason, is only found there.

Steve Rose, longtime Johnson County columnist: