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EGCC Tale Should Be Required Reading

Yesterday, I wrote about the Jefferson County Commissioners in Steubenville, OH, who are struggling to understand the exact implications of EGCC’s demise. The final chapter of the EGCC story will play out over the next eight to twelve weeks, but any person who lives in a community college district anywhere in the United States should watch this carefully.

EGCC offers a hard lesson on the dangers of having do-nothing trustees on community college boards. Community college trustees have a deceptively simple job: watch over the college’s expenditure of taxpayer dollars. Virtually all of a trustee’s authority traces back to spending. Hiring and firing the executive and other personnel; buying and selling land, buildings, and equipment; setting tuition rates; approving large purchases; issuing bonds; authorizing millages … the list goes on.

Watch. The. Money.

Spend it like it’s yours – because it is.

Some trustees take their responsibilities very seriously. Most do not. They would rather sit around debating policy or listening to worthless “feel-good” presentations by various administrators. And the administration loves trustees who do this.

Why? Because if they’re doing this, they’re not watching the money! They’re not asking questions. They aren’t considering what’s in the best interest of the institution, the taxpayers, and the students. They’re not doing the ONE THING they’re supposed to do, which is think critically about the spending choices of the administration.

Watch. The. Money.

If community college trustees focused dispassionately on the spending decisions of the administration they’re supposed to be minding, community colleges would be much different places. They would be more tightly connected to the communities they serve. Community colleges would be the economic engines they were once envisioned to be.

Other community colleges may follow EGCC lead

So, we have community colleges (like Washtenaw Community College) that claim to be “green” with their LEED-certified building policies and geothermal heating systems, and yet top the list of Michigan community colleges in energy costs per square foot. One cannot reconcile worthless environmental lip service with the mind-numbingly huge wads of cash the institution blows on heating and cooling costs every year.

One cannot authorize maintenance expenditures of $0.25 per square foot year after year, and then wonder why the college’s sewer connection blew out and dumped nearly 10,000 gallons of raw sewage into the watershed.

People need to get very plugged into what their community college trustees are doing, because EGCC isn’t the only community college in deep financial trouble. It’s not the only community college that has borrowed heavily for capital projects with limited prospects for repayment.

It isn’t the only community college that has experienced a decline in enrollment, and it won’t be the last public community college to dissolve due to poor fiscal management. This is what authority without responsibility looks like. Thanks to lax oversight on the part of community college trustees, and their refusal to consider the implications and risks of long-term debts, more public community colleges could end up like EGCC.

And that means more areas like Jefferson County will be involuntarily taxed to pay for the millions of dollars’ worth of bad decisions that people in authority signed off on in an effort to avoid doing their one simple job:

Watch. The. Money.

Photo Credit: Anthony Robinson, via Flickr