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Community colleges ranked in annual survey

WalletHub released its annual analysis of community colleges in the United States. Overall, Michigan’s community colleges ranked 15th in the nation. Within Michigan, Washtenaw ranked 7th of 23 two-year schools in the state. That’s a drop of one place from WalletHub’s 2021 findings.

WCC’s national ranking has gone up (76), thanks in large measure to WalletHub’s heavy weighting on WCC’s comparatively low cost. In other ranking areas – including Educational Outcomes and Career Outcomes, WCC did not fare as well.

I have said this in the past and will repeat it here: I’m not a huge fan of college rankings. It’s very hard to compare institutions objectively. It’s also easy to focus heavily on one element – like cost – and miss the bigger picture, which includes things like educational outcomes and career outcomes. For students, it’s not so much about how much a degree costs, but rather, what you can get out of it. Frankly, a low-cost degree that doesn’t produce much economic benefit probably isn’t worth nearly as much as a degree that costs more but enables the student to earn more money following graduation. A cheap, worthless degree is just a waste of scarce resources, and a ranking system probably shouldn’t reward that.

Washtenaw County residents deserve a highly functional, highly productive community college. That’s a community college that focuses on improving educational outcomes for its students. It’s a community college that delivers degree programs that enable graduates to improve their economic position years or decades after graduation. That’s not what we get out of Washtenaw Community College, and we haven’t gotten that for the better part of two decades.

Community colleges should provide a return on investment

WCC’s degree programs have been replaced with watered down certificates in a narrowing range of fields. WCC now issues so many certificates and so few degrees that the Department of Education no longer categorizes it as a two-year school. WCC is more comparable to truck driving schools and beauty colleges than it is to a traditional community college.

That approach is probably good for gaming the State Aid formula, but it leaves sub-degree certificate holders short on income following completion. In some cases, certificate holders earn the same as they would have earned from their high school diploma alone.

While some executives at WCC sleep comfortably knowing that they work in a “rich community,” for many residents here that translates to living in an “expensive community.” Washtenaw County gets more expensive by the year, and fewer residents can afford to remain in. We cannot afford to have a community college that produces academic programs that consistently lead to low-wage careers. At a time when the most recent monthly inflation rate was 8.5%, we cannot have a community college that congratulates itself on partnering with employers to create $12/hour jobs.

This community provides the financial resources WCC needs to invest heavily in instruction. Unfortunately, we have an administration that refuses to allow instructional spending to keep pace with inflation. (WCC’s spending on instruction has declined by more than 12% in the last eight years, when accounting for inflation.)

This is less the fault of the WCC Administration than it is the unwillingness of the Board of Trustees to exercise oversight. It is reasonable to set standards for and demand performance from the WCC Administration. It is not reasonable for the Trustees to sit on their hands and watch things happen.

Photo Credit: akeli , via Flickr