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Community college enrollment and missed opportunities

Declining community college enrollment across the nation is no secret. The situation is likely to continue if community colleges do not develop new ways to find potential students. Untapped sources include people who may not currently participate in the workforce, or who participate by way of a low-wage job.

Finding prospective students is only one part of the strategy. Boosting community college enrollment will also require development of academic programs that maximize the return from new federally funded programs. For example, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which Congress adopted in 2021, contains funding for the creation of nearly one-quarter million jobs in broadband and telecommunications infrastructure.

WCC will prepare students for exactly none of these jobs because its academic programs do not line up with the needs of broadband infrastructure providers. Broadband is not the only example of this. Both private industry and the public sector are making huge investments in battery technologies, computer chip fabrication, renewable energy, electric vehicles, skilled trades, machining and manufacturing, among many others. These jobs are the basis of a new economy. Washington is throwing community colleges the bones they need to support new and growing industries, and the WCC administration apparently plans to sit these opportunities out.

The WCC Administration is not making plans to create new programs or recruit new instructors who are qualified to teach in these areas. Industries are begging for people who have these skills. Where is Washtenaw Community College?

Building community college enrollment is not impossible

Please don’t suggest that the “Advanced Transportation Center” is WCC’s grand entry into any of these industries. The “Advanced Transportation Center” is a name-only plan for a second events and non-credit building on campus. The current administration has admitted as such. The building – as planned – has such little academic value that the State of Michigan will only agree to pay a quarter of its construction costs. The lack of faculty offices in that space attests to the building’s true nature.

The WCC Administration seems wholly unprepared to recognize and respond to these opportunities. The executives seem content to bypass the chance to build the economic futures of both Washtenaw County and the State of Michigan. In doing so, they are sabotaging community college enrollment and robbing Washtenaw County of the chance to host new employers and industries. With that, they are missing the chance to create durable employment opportunities for Washtenaw County residents.

If economic growth is a priority in Washtenaw County, we will need to use the tools at our disposal to engage people who are either not participating or under-participating in the local workforce. We will also need to create strategies to retain recent college graduates to fill these positions. While WCC certainly has the capability to support the area’s economic goals, it does not appear to be taking significant steps in this direction. That’s a failure of leadership that we really cannot afford.

Photo Credit: NASA Orion Spacecraft , via Flickr