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Board composition affects students

An interesting 2018 study by the Association of Community College Trustees revealed a growing gap between community college boards and community college students. The study showed that community college boards are mostly white and mostly male, while community college student bodies are increasingly minorities and mostly female.

The ACCT compared the 2018 results to those of a similar survey it conducted ten years earlier. Not surprisingly, board composition changed little in ten years in terms of racial and gender balances. Over the same period, the diversity among students at community colleges has changed significantly.

The results raise questions about how rigid board composition impacts a student population that is increasingly diverse. The questions are important because a community college board is typically responsible for policymaking, as well as executive hiring and oversight. Implicit biases among the board members may delay the modernization of policies and carry forward in hiring decisions. Over time, these can negatively impact the community college, and decrease its ability to meet the needs of a changing student body.

Beyond race and gender, other issues arise from board composition. In many cases, trustees have little to no experience in either higher education or governance. Instead, community college boards are often made up of members of the business community. Their motives for seeking a board seat may not be driven by a desire to help the community. They may see a Trustee position as an entry to higher political office or as a hobby. They may also seek a community college connection to increase their own visibility in the community or their profession. These motivations help neither the community nor the College.

Change the board composition in November

In November, three seats on the Washtenaw Community College Board of Trustees will open. WCC would benefit from trustees with more experience in higher education; policymaking and a willingness to exercise authentic oversight. Like many other higher education institutions, WCC’s administration is overgrown. The facilities have been badly neglected in favor of other spending priorities. The current trustees do not – as a group – represent the interests of the taxpayers. They have established a pattern of avoiding the taxpayer and using general fund dollars to secure capital debt. While this may work adequately in a good economy, it leaves the College short on funding when it needs to increase instructional spending. Like now, for example.

Ultimately, these problems all result from disengaged trustees who do not exercise critical oversight; approve frivolous spending without asking questions; and demand that the College administration take care of the resources that Washtenaw County taxpayers have invested literally billions of dollars in.

WCC needs more engaged, more experienced trustees. We cannot continue to elect the same group of individuals and expect different results.

It is time for change.

Photo Credit: Samantha Celera , via Flickr