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Community college layoffs highlight administrative failures

In the last few months, a number of community colleges have announced that they will use layoffs as a way to address large budget deficits. Monroe Community College and Rockland Community College in New York, Lakeland Community College and Columbus State Community College in Ohio, and Kirkwood Community College in Iowa have all announced layoffs. Eastern Gateway Community College terminated its entire faculty in preparation for its dissolution.

Layoffs haven’t been reserved for community colleges either. They’re being used to address budget shortfalls at every educational level, from pre-Kindergarten to master’s and doctoral level programs at R1 universities. Without fail, administrators have pointed to declining enrollments, reduced state appropriations, accounting errors, and the loss of COVID-19 funding as proof education institutions need more money.

Realistically, no one discusses the enormous and unsustainable overhead costs that education institutions – particularly higher education institutions – have accumulated or their devastating consequences on the cost, availability, and quality of education. Everything from construction to multi-decade bond issues to administrative bloat to maintenance backlogs to uncontrolled executive compensation raises the cost of education.

These hidden costs are extremely pernicious because they never quite go away. They just keep accumulating. States limit their appropriations because there is little appetite to finance the administrative overgrowth that plagues most higher education institutions.

It is particularly difficult for community colleges because they deliver expensive occupational education programs to the least-resourced students. In an education-happy place like Washtenaw County, voters are only too happy to provide a near-limitless supply of money to fund places like WCC. Unfortunately, all this generosity lends itself to exactly the type of expenditures that make occupational education more expensive and less sustainable as time goes on.

Executive missteps should result in executive layoffs

It is absolutely horrifying that the current WCC administration has managed to lard a dozen Vice Presidents on the payroll. Or construct a publicly funded, privately operated shadow recreation center that exactly NO ONE in the community asked for or approved – other than the seven WCC Trustees who signed off on the project. Or allow the facilities to deteriorate to the point of discharging raw sewage onto the campus and into the Huron River Watershed. And create Master Plans that include the construction of even more expensive and less relevant facilities like a hotel and convention center.

There is no acknowledgement that their inattention to the actual mission of the community college – which is to educate people and bring economic stability to the area – CAUSES attendance costs to rise and enrollments to decline. The lack of new programming DRIVES AWAY prospective students from the college. Diversion of funds to irrelevant new construction projects GUARANTEES that existing infrastructure will deteriorate and fail.

Worse, the Trustees – whose job it is to provide oversight – take no corrective action. Rather, they support, encourage, authorize and reward this kind of mismanagement. And they cry alongside the Administration while they authorize the layoffs of workers who didn’t cause the problems but somehow always factor into the solution.

The only upside to employee layoffs is that eventually there is no place left for incompetent management to hide. I have said this before. Faculty and staff layoffs should be authorized only when they also include the executives whose poor, short-sighted, and self-serving decisions necessitated them to begin with.

When community colleges need to resort to layoffs, eliminating the poor decision-makers up front would kill two birds with one stone.

Photo Credit: Fritz Park , via Flickr