One of the community college recommendations in the Business Leaders for Michigan (BLM) report is the creation of a state agency to support community colleges. BLM’s rationale is that Michigan is the only state that does not have such an office.
There’s a certain reality that the BLM community college recommendations either don’t recognize or don’t care about. The State of Michigan doesn’t rightly have the authority to direct its community colleges in the way that BLM hopes. First, at most larger Michigan community colleges, the state appropriation comprises a small part of the institution’s overall funding. For example, at WCC, the state appropriation provides less than 15% of the annual budget. That’s due – in part- to the high value property tax collection in Washtenaw County. Frankly, the state doesn’t kick in enough to start calling shots.
(Now, if the state wanted to claim a board seat for itself at the community colleges, I wouldn’t object to that. I think the state would be appalled by the lack of oversight and the poor spending decisions certain boards exercise.)
Further, there’s no clear indication that having a state agency to support community colleges is necessary, good, or effective. No one should willingly adopt yet another layer of bureaucracy (and its attendant costs) without have a damned good idea of what the office is supposed to do and how its performance will be measured. I’m also all about exit strategies. The state needs to have clear performance standards for the office. If the office fails to meet or exceed those standards, it needs to be shut down.
Community college recommendations neglect leadership
Another problem with the BLM community college recommendations is that there is no clear alignment between the “Ten Top Challenges” of community college students and the group’s recommendations. For example, one of the challenges was the faculty. According to the report:
“… poor instruction, poor feedback, unresponsive…”
That’s just a cheap shot at the full-time faculty at Michigan’s community colleges. Second, there is a massive difference between the overwhelming number of part-time instructors that community college administrations can’t get enough of and the full-time faculty.
BLM seems to have forgotten to create a plan to improve the quality of instruction that would apply equally to the full-time faculty and the part time instructional staff. Where is the recommendation that institutions hire more full time faculty and limit the number of part-time instructors? If the quality of the instruction is so bad, where are the professional development recommendations?
And where are the recommendations for improving what passes for community college leadership? Regulations to limit the size and cost of the administration? Requirements that all bond issues must go before the voters in the district? Restrictions on using operational dollars to guarantee or pay for debt. Criminal penalties for issuing no-bid contracts? Asset protection laws that require community college administrations to prioritize the care and feeding of the campus infrastructure? Energy efficiency standards?
There is a lot of room for improvement at Michigan’s community colleges, much of which can be found at the top.
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