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Community college as infrastructure takes on new significance

Michigan voters put Gretchen Whitmer in the Governor’s seat on one key issue: “Fix the Damned Roads.” Michigan’s roads are among the worst in the nation, which is a pretty poor showing for the home of the Motor City. Michigan’s disinvestment in its roads and bridges is shocking. The state spends less per-person on roads and bridges than any other state in the nation. You can easily see the impact of unvarnished neglect on the state’s infrastructure.

And this approach to infrastructure isn’t recent. Michigan has ranked at or near the bottom of all states for infrastructure spending for the past 20 years. You can attribute the cause of this disinvestment to politics, or finances, or sheer ignorance. All three certainly combine to produce the same result: rotten roads.

Other publicly funded resources are infrastructure, too. Community colleges, for example, are a form of infrastructure. Just as the roads are (literally) the foundation of transportation, community colleges provide entry into the economy. And in the same way the roads deteriorate from disinvestment, so do our community colleges.

Neglecting community college infrastructure will yield predictable results

Investment in the community college means that it can perform at its highest level when the economy is at its lowest. But simply giving money to the community college isn’t investing in it. When Trustees divert that money – which the county collects to fund the college’s operations – to pay for non-operational expenses, they diminish our investment in the infrastructure.

Non-operational expenses include debt. It makes no sense to divert operational dollars to pay for it. And community colleges don’t have to! They can seek a special, separate tax to fund bond repayments.

Ultimately, the Board of Trustees oversees the community college. When they authorize careless spending and divert operational dollars to non-operational expenses, they dis-invest in the educational infrastructure that the local taxpayers have built. If they plan to build hotels and retail spaces on campus, they plan to dis-invest in the infrastructure that is supposed to help people get jobs. When they waste public dollars meant for community college operations on building and maintaining a private health club, they dis-invest in the infrastructure we all benefit from. And when the basis of their spending decisions is its impact on their own personal tax bills, they dis-invest in the community’s college.

We need trustees who recognize the college as infrastructure to maintain. And we also need to hold trustees accountable when they dis-invest in our infrastructure.

Photo Credit: DDohler, via Flickr