Press "Enter" to skip to content

A community college graduate can’t afford Washtenaw County

I’ve been writing about the need for some serious upgrades to the occupational education programs currently on offer at WCC. The average community college graduate can expect to earn less than $34,000 per year ten years after graduation. According to the Department of Education, a WCC graduate can expect to earn, on average, $36,000 ten years after beginning studies at WCC. That’s wholly unacceptable on both an individual and a community level.

In 2020, the median household income in Washtenaw County was nearly $76,000. That’s more than twice the average 10-year income of a community college graduate. Typically, a household has more than one earner, so looking at the per capita income gives a better picture of the fortunes of the individual earner. In 2020, the per capita income in Washtenaw County was nearly $43,000. That’s still more than 26% more than what a community college graduate can expect to earn. It’s also almost 20% more than what a WCC grad can expect to earn.

When we look at the median income in Washtenaw County, we get even closer to the average community college earner. At $36,000, the average WCC grad makes just a slim 1.6% more than Washtenaw County’s median income of $35,400. The median income, however, considers all jobs – full-time, part-time, occasional, etc. held by all earners in the county.

Community college graduate earnings should mirror median income

Clearly, a person earning $36,000 per year is going to have a hard time getting by in a county where half of all households earn more than $76,000 per year. Without doubt, Ann Arbor has an outsized influence on Washtenaw County economics. Regardless, everyone in the county needs to eat.

Our community college doesn’t do our county any favors when its graduates earn only half of the median household income. It simply assists in the transformation of our county to a more expensive, less inclusive, less diverse place to live and work. There is something wrong when people who were born and raised here, who went to school here, and who work here cannot afford to live here.

Our community college plays a significant role in the wealth and well-being of our community. Its administration should endeavor to make certain that a WCC degree is a worthwhile investment. Our Trustees should insist that a Washtenaw Community College degree should lead to a job that pays well enough to live in Washtenaw County. That means eliminating low-wage degree programs and certificates and retooling other programs to improve a student’s earning potential.

WCC’s degree programs must keep pace with Washtenaw County’s median income. That must be the benchmark. As a county, we cannot expect to enjoy continued prosperity when half of the workforce lives in an adjacent county.

Photo Credit: Jimmy Emerson, DVM , via Flickr