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Community colleges should put their communities first

County College of Morris (New Jersey) has a lot to be proud of. It recently ranked in the top 2% of community colleges in the nation. It awards more associate degrees than any other community college in New Jersey. For the fourth year in a row, CCM graduates earned more than the graduates of any other educational institution in the state. It has the top-ranked online business degree program in the state, and it is the fifth-highest rated business school in New Jersey.

That’s a nice CV for a community college, no?

But wait! There’s more.

CCM awards more than $20M in scholarships per year to its students, most of whom graduate with no debt. The CCM Foundation also supports students when they encounter unanticipated financial needs during the school year. It also helps them address basic needs by operating food pantries, and by seeking grants to help students pay for childcare.

In the past five years, CCM has introduced 16 new degree programs and has offered 132 brand new classes. CCM also provides free after-school tutoring and mentoring to middle-school and high school students.

And… one last thing: CCM’s FY2022 budget is $75M with an enrollment of 8,700. It lives up to the mission of community colleges pretty well.

Community colleges are supposed to benefit their communities

Washtenaw County taxpayers plowed nearly $60M into Washtenaw Community College in the last year. That doesn’t count the state appropriation, the federal relief funds, or the taxes that underwrite student loans or federal aid. (WCC’s FY22 budget is $110M.) With as much community investment in our community college, you’d think that we’d get a little more. Instead, we get this:

“And all of that mixed use, you know, land brings in revenue to the College. And so, they don’t really have to worry too much about their enrollment, because they have other ways to bring in revenue to support their college.”

– Rose Bellanca, November 19, 2019

The context of this quote is that the WCC college president is reminding the Board of Trustees why it is important for WCC to pursue mixed use development on a campus that the taxpayers furnished for the sole purpose of educating county residents. The “they” she refers to is Macomb Community College.

WCC’s hunt for “other revenue” ignores the obvious

We have a college president who thinks that the best way to fund WCC is to start vending college real estate for non-educational purposes. There’s no discussion of recruiting more students, which is the simplest and most straightforward way to raise revenues. There’s no strategy to compete effectively against for-profit colleges. And there’s no plan to help Washtenaw County residents escape poverty. She would rather hunt for pocket change in the couch cushions than do the work she and her expansive (and expensive) administration were hired to do.

Her going strategy is “Let’s give up and do something else.” In fact, that’s written into WCC’s Master Plan as High Priority Item #9.

We need an administration that’s tuned into the educational needs of our community and the potential of community colleges. And we need Trustees who spend more time looking out for the community than they do looking out for themselves.

Photo Credit: J. Sibiga Photography, via Flickr