How we analyzed community colleges’ administrative costs

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Infographic: A look at administrative costs across community colleges


Map: Price of proximity

More than half of California’s 72 community college districts are within 20 miles of another district office.

Each district comes with a cadre of highly compensated executives who do the same thing as their counterpart with the same title at another district 10 or 15 miles away. In theory, geographically close districts could share a vice president of human resources or a chief business officer, among other positions.

To get a better idea of the possible savings such a move could achieve, we chose to dig in deeper on a group of 16 community college districts.

To choose the districts, we considered the availability of detailed payroll data, geographic proximity and district size. Although we requested the same detailed data from each district, some were unable or unwilling to provide the full scope we asked for. 

We began by applying a commonly used data-clustering algorithm to group districts into natural clusters where each district is within 20 miles of another. Six clusters emerged, totaling 40 districts. 

We selected six districts from the biggest cluster, which is in Southern California. We looked at the Chaffey, Citrus and Mt. San Antonio community college districts in the greater Los Angeles area and the North Orange County, Rancho Santiago and Coast community college districts in the Orange County area. These districts were geographically close and had rich data.

We also chose three of 13 districts in the next biggest cluster, which is in the Bay Area: the Contra Costa, Napa Valley and Solano community college districts. These districts also were geographically close and had rich data.

Our reporting also led us to examine small districts, which have more administrative overhead per student than their bigger counterparts. We chose to look at four districts with the smallest number of students in Northern California – the Feather River, Lake Tahoe, Lassen and Siskiyou Joint community college districts ­–and three districts with the lowest enrollment in Southern California – the Copper Mountain, Imperial and Palo Verde community college districts – all of which provided the full scope of payroll data.

Field Poll

To get a sense of what Californians know about community college boards and districts – and how much they value them – California Watch commissioned a Field Poll in September. Nearly 1,200 California registered voters responded to the telephone survey.

We asked people how knowledgeable they were about matters relating to the community college or colleges in their area. The biggest slice, 38 percent of respondents, said they were not too knowledgeable. About 33 percent said they were somewhat knowledgeable, and 21 percent said they were not at all knowledgeable.

When we asked how knowledgeable people were about the candidates running for community college boards in recent elections, nearly half – 46 percent – said they were not at all knowledgeable. About 32 percent said they were not too knowledgeable. Four percent said they were very knowledgeable.

About 46 percent of people said they believed community college boards were somewhat valuable to the operations of a community college, while 20 percent said they believed boards were very valuable.

And the majority of respondents – 63 percent – thought that the number of local community college boards and districts should be reduced to save money, while 19 percent thought that having 72 different boards and districts was worth it.

The poll had a margin of error of no more than plus or minus 2.9 percentage points. Some totals may add up to more than 100 percent because of rounding. 

Here’s a look at the responses to our questions:

 

How knowledgeable would you say you are about matters relating to the community college or colleges in your area?
Very knowledgeable 7%
Somewhat knowledgeable 33%
Not too knowledgeable 38%
Not at all knowledgeable 21%
No opinion 1%

 

When voting in recent elections for the community college board in your area, how knowledgeable would you say you are about the candidates running for the community college board?
Very knowledgeable 4%
Somewhat knowledgeable 17%
Not too knowledgeable 32%
Not at all knowledgeable 46%
No opinion 1%
Haven't voted in these elections (volunteered) 1%

 

How valuable do you feel the local governing boards are to the operations of a community college?
Very valuable 20%
Somewhat valuable 46%
Not too valuable 13%
Not at all valuable 7%
No opinion 15%

 

Do you think that having 72 different locally elected community college boards and 72 district administrations around the state is worth the added expense needed to staff and oversee the community colleges, or do you think the number of local community college boards and districts should be reduced to save money?
Worth it 19%
Should be reduced to save money 63%
Depends 2%
No opinion 16%

 

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