Press "Enter" to skip to content

Community college learns a hard lesson about wages

Barton Community College in Great Bend, KS is learning a tough lesson. The community college has seventy-five open positions, some of which have been open for three years. As it turns out, people do not want to work for nothing.

According to MIT’s living wage calculator, the minimum hourly rate one must earn in Barton County, KS is $15.75. That wage is for a single person with no dependents. With a dependent (whether that is an unemployed spouse or a child), the living wage increases to $26-$31 per hour.

Mark Dean, the Vice President of Administration, told the BCC Trustees last month, “other entities paying upward of $18 an hour,” the college is struggling to attract people to fill those positions.”.

So, other entities in Great Bend are paying $37,440 annually, and as a result, the college is having a tough time hiring people. Now, keep in mind that the open positions include everything from full time faculty and adjunct faculty positions to support staff, security officers, human resource personnel and more.

Last year, the trustees authorized a pay increase to bring the college pay scales up to 95% of the market at that time. Based on a new compensation report by a vendor, the BCC base compensation formula will return to somewhere in the high 80% range.

I am not sure where lowering the base wage makes one more attractive to prospective employees, but it is not Great Bend. Nonetheless, that is the strategy BCC plans to pursue to fill a backlog of up to 3 years of open positions.

Wages are driving community college enrollment slide

The lessons for the college are twofold. First, if you plan to fill your open positions, you should plan to pay your workers. At the end of the day, they live in the real world, where things cost real money. Second, check your academic programs to make sure your graduates can earn more than $18 per hour. If your research fails either one of these tests., you are going to remain stuck right where you are.

The wage issue will not go away. Workers will not take a 10%-15% discount on salary for the “privilege” of working for a public institution. Second, students do not attend school to earn degrees so they can take low-wage jobs. Your academic programs should lead your students to living wage jobs – jobs that enable them to support themselves and their families.

The significant drop in community college enrollment is no mystery. Community colleges have too many academic programs that lead to low-wage jobs. The message is noticeably clear: a community college degree is not a steppingstone to economic prosperity.

If you want to increase your enrollment, change your approach, because offering a broad array of minimal training programs, certificates, and worthless two-year degrees is not working. And if you cannot compete with other employers who are offering better salaries (for three years running), increase your wage schedules.

Photo Credit: Ken Teegardin , via Flickr