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Community college enrollment sinks on wage pressures

California is struggling with a massive drop in enrollment among its 116 community colleges. Since the pandemic began, California’s community college enrollment has declined by 15%. While administrators struggle to understand why students are not registering for classes, economic data may hold the answer.

According to third quarter cost-of-living data compiled by the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, California had the third-highest cost-of-living in the United States, behind only Hawaii and the District of Columbia. Other states with above average cost-of-living indices have also experienced major declines in community college enrollment.

Using the same data, Michigan’s 3rd quarter cost-of-living was the 13th lowest in the nation. Among major expenditures, only the cost of utilities and transportation in Michigan exceeded the national average. But Michigan has also seen a significant reduction in the number of students enrolling at two-year schools.

Cost of living data support the idea that individuals can be financially successful without a post-secondary education. The cost of obtaining an associate degree compared to the resulting salary is not large enough to justify attendance, so an associate degree is no longer a path to economic mobility.

If enrollment is the key to a community college’s survival (and you are not willing to go the EGCC route), community college administrators should be working around the clock to develop strategies that increase the value of the diplomas they award.

Focus on academic programs to build community college enrollment

The administration at Washtenaw Community College has thrown in the towel on education. That is why the Master Plan contains little in the way of infrastructure support for new academic programs. There is only scant support for building community college enrollment. Instead, the Master Plan focuses on campus aesthetics, and generating revenue from non-academic activities. The Trustees appear to be on board with diverting operational dollars toward these non-academic pursuits.

Unfortunately, the newly refined aesthetics of the campus will be a complete bust for Washtenaw County residents who do not enroll. That money would be better spent developing new occupational and vocational programs and adding value to existing ones. Investing the money into STEM programs and recruiting women and minorities into STEM careers would return substantial benefits to the community. Building a Starbucks in the TI parking lot will not.

We need administrators and Trustees who understand and are on board with the mission of the community college. Further, we need administrators who are willing to meet the challenge in front of them with creativity and determination. We do not need executives who want to tear down Washtenaw County’s community college in search of a few bucks.

Photo Credit: ***Karen , via Flickr