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Enrollment losses at Michigan’s community colleges

Yesterday, I wrote about the excess capacity at Michigan’s public universities. Based on each university’s peak enrollment, I calculated that Michigan currently has more than 60,000 unfilled slots in its public universities. But that pales in comparison to the enormous enrollment losses at the state’s community colleges.

Exactly how much space are we talking about? Something in the 185,500-seat neighborhood. Right now, Michigan’s community colleges are operating at about 55% capacity. That estimate comes from calculating the difference between peak enrollment at each Michigan community college and its 2021 enrollment as reported to the National Center for Education Statistics. The shrinkage means that Michigan’s seven largest community colleges – if operated at their peak enrollments – could serve all current Michigan community college students.

Enrollment losses at that level mean lost tuition revenues of more than $300M for the colleges. Among workers, it represents an annual loss in income of more than $140M, based on the difference in annual earnings between high school and community college graduates in Michigan. That’s a lot for everyone to leave on the table each year. Worse, it means that Michigan is less likely to attract new employers, and more likely to lose existing ones based on the educational attainment of its workforce.

Enrollment losses by the numbers

So, what do the enrollment losses at Michigan’s community colleges look like? The table below shows each institution’s peak unduplicated head count and year, the 2021 unduplicated headcount, the difference between peak headcount and current headcount, and the percent capacity at which the institution is operating.

Institution Peak Peak Year Current Change % Capacity
Gogebic Community College 1568 2011 1375 -193 88%
Alpena Community College 2791 2010 2335 -456 84%
Washtenaw Community College 23206 2010 18734 -4,472 81%
Bay De Noc Community College 3215 2011 2429 -786 76%
Grand Rapids Community College 25605 2011 18142 -7,463 71%
Muskegon Community College 7503 2013 5128 -2,375 68%
West Shore Community College 2210 2010 1509 -701 68%
Saint Clair County Community College 6944 2011 4596 -2,348 66%
Lake Michigan College 6927 2011 4377 -2,550 63%
Henry Ford College 26724 2011 16811 -9,913 63%
Northwestern Michigan College 6645 2011 4152 -2,493 62%
Kirtland Community College 3193 2007 1982 -1,211 62%
Schoolcraft College 22809 2013 13994 -8,815 61%
Delta College 17115 2010 9738 -7,377 57%
Kalamazoo Valley Community College 18322 2010 10128 -8,194 55%
Glen Oaks Community College 2833 2009 1506 -1,327 53%
Mid Michigan College 7585 2011 3983 -3,602 53%
North Central Michigan College 4510 2010 2347 -2,163 52%
Macomb Community College 47490 2007 24180 -23,310 51%
Oakland Community College 46592 2009 23708 -22,884 51%
Monroe County Community College 6508 2010 3259 -3,249 50%
Jackson College 11130 2010 5559 -5,571 50%
Southwestern Michigan College 4402 2011 2185 -2,217 50%
Montcalm Community College 3840 2008 1868 -1,972 49%
Wayne County Community College District 34698 2011 15130 -19,568 44%
Lansing Community College 34067 2007 14739 -19,328 43%
Mott Community College 19113 2008 7479 -11,634 39%
Kellogg Community College 14648 2010 5335 -9,313 36%
Total 412193 226708 -185,485 55%

Michigan’s community college system is dying

There’s a lot to consider here, but community colleges have a lot of work to do if they intend to recover in any meaningful way. That work must start with establishing new programs that enable workers to earn living wages. It also means that community colleges must eliminate programs that do not provide a direct pathway to the middle class. When two years of classroom learning increases a person’s annual salary by only a few thousand dollars over what that person can make having only a high school diploma, the juice ain’t worth the squeeze.

Second, the Trustees must ensure that the revenues at each institution fund its core mission and provide adequate care for the campus infrastructure. That likely means tying the size of the administration tightly to the institution’s enrollment. When enrollment declines, the administration cannot grow. Nor can revenues be diverted to non-academic priorities. Regardless of the rationale for this kind of spending, the primary mission of the community college is education. Everything else is a distraction that the Board of Trustees must not accommodate.

This should be a wake-up call to Michigan residents, the community college system is dying. The community colleges’ current condition results from a chronic lack of investment in the colleges, their academic programs, their teaching staffs, and their campus infrastructures. Diversion of funds from instruction to administration, instruction to construction, and infrastructure to pet projects have taken their toll. The result of this lack of focus on the strategic mission is that there is little to distinguish an associate degree from a high school diploma. Community colleges have no competitive advantage over high schools, and they also cannot compete with four-year universities.

That’s a dangerous position to be in.

Photo Credit: Pixel, via Flickr