Last week, the Trustees of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities voted to consolidate five of the state’s 30 community colleges into one organization. The move will impact Hibbing Community College, Itasca Community College, Mesabi Range College, Rainy River Community College, and Vermilion Community College. Effective May 23, the new, six-campus institution will be known as Minnesota North College.
The merger will not result in the closure of any campuses but will consolidate some student services and expand course offerings at the combined campuses. Three of the campuses are within about 30-60 miles of each other. The other two campuses are about 170 miles farther north. All six campuses are located 150-250 miles north of Minneapolis. In the past decade, their combined enrollments have declined by more than one-third.
Consolidating community colleges is gaining traction as a way to cut costs and still provide low-cost education services to a large number of students. The State of Connecticut will consolidate its 12 community colleges into a single institution. Earlier this month, the New England Commission of Higher Education approved the consolidation plan. State officials first proposed the merger in 2018, but their initial plan failed to gain the support of the NECHE.
Now that the accreditation issue is settled, the merger could be complete by July 2023. The move is not yet a done deal; the Connecticut state legislature could still step in to halt the consolidation. If it does not, the new institution will be known as Connecticut State Community College. The Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, which proposed the merger, cited steep declines in enrollment, low completion rates and unsustainable funding models as justification for combining the institutions.
Dallas completed community college merger in 2021
In 2021, seven community colleges in Dallas County, TX combined into a single institution, now known as Dallas College. Supporters of that move said that the consolidation would allow students to take courses from any of the seven schools. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, which accredited all seven institutions, previously required students to earn at least 25% of their credits from a single institution. Under the merger, students can now take courses at any Dallas College location.
Consolidating community colleges in Michigan isn’t likely to happen, unless two (or more) institutions can get their voters to agree to a merger. In Connecticut, Minnesota and Texas, community college funding comes largely from the state. The single-stream funding strategy enables the state to consolidate schools as it sees fit. Because Michigan community colleges rely more heavily on local funding, the voters in each district must approve any changes to the district boundaries.
But changing the district boundaries could work in a Michigan community college’s favor. Right now, about half of WCC’s students come from outside of the district boundaries. Most of these non-resident students come from Livingston County and western Wayne County. Western Wayne County communities already support Wayne County Community College or Schoolcraft College. Much of Livingston County, however, is not part of any community college district.
Expanding the Washtenaw Community College district boundaries would make sense. A large proportion of the non-resident students come from Livingston County. These students should pay non-resident tuition, but thanks to an unfortunate loophole created by the current administration, these students pay a sharply reduced rate for online classes.
The correct response to demand
The correct response to high demand for services from Livingston County residents is to explore an expansion of the Washtenaw Community College district boundaries. This would allow WCC to increase its property tax revenue and reduce the millage rate at the same time.
The incorrect response is to offer Livingston County students steep discounts on online tuition. This eliminates the primary reason to support district expansion. It also forces Washtenaw County taxpayers to subsidize Livingston County residents’ use of the educational resources we’ve built.
Photo Credit: Kyle Garrity , via Flickr