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Financial narrative is more misleading than “conservative”

WCC CFO Bill Johnson took the Board on what can only be described as a fantastic journey. And by fantastic – I don’t mean awesome. I mean fantasy. Johnson never says exactly what he bases his financial narrative on. That lends itself to the notion that the Administration designed these “predictions” to support some other agenda.

Johnson’s predictions regarding headcount and credit hours

So, if you look beyond historical, and now, you also say, well how does that trend out? And this really is – so this gives you a view into our assumptions on that financial forecast that you just saw for Fiscal Twenty-Two, Three and Four and what our assumptions on credit hours. And I think the – kind of the phrase I would like to leave the Board with is “conservative”. We have a conservative view of credit hours in that balanced budget forecast that we have.

So, as you can see in both credit hours and headcount, that we are continuing to forecast decline. You know, and you can see how those numbers drop there. I think it is important to note though, is that while credit hours are declining, that the headcount is not declining at quite the same pace. So, meaning that average credit hours we’re forecasting are going to continue to strengthen. We saw a dip in average credit hours, as you can see. But starting the Fall of 20, we saw a nice uptick and that’s, you know, that certainly was in the midst of the pandemic.

But what we’ve seen through all our strong efforts, from our faculty and staff in the outreach that we’ve done to our students around completion, um, that we’ve had a really strong success and it resonates with students about picking up that extra class, and certainly, as we offer more distance learning classes that offers – that gives students a little more flexibility to mix and match their classes on campus and off, and distance learning to meet their personal schedules. And so, we think that the strength of all of our offerings, and the outreach that we have done has really helped to have an uptick in average credit hours and we think that’s going to hold and I think that’s a positive trend for us.

Board should reject baseless financial narrative

WCC CFO wants to leave the Board with one phrase, and that’s “conservative.” I would also like to leave the Board with one phrase (actually just a word), and that’s misleading.

Restricting the analysis of enrollment only to the fall enrollment data is misleading, especially at WCC. Fall enrollment represents about 40% of the credit hour activity over the course of a year.

Second, there is no basis for assuming that the credit hour enrollment (or the headcount for that matter) will drop. Participants in the State’s two free community college programs must enroll in classes in calendar year 2021. They also must maintain part-time enrollment to remain in the program.

At the same time, in Johnson’s financial narrative, the headcount will drop faster than the credit hour enrollment. Fewer students will be taking more credit hours. Except that’s not the way things work at WCC. Fewer students on campus mean fewer students in classrooms. Low enrollments in classes mean that classes get canceled, so fewer students mean fewer classes.

The Administration has publicly predicted that enrollment at WCC will slide unabated, and despite thousands of Washtenaw County applicants in the free tuition programs. Despite data showing that about 1 out of 5 recently graduated high school students in Washtenaw County enroll at WCC within 6 months of graduation. And despite data showing that about one-third of Washtenaw County high school graduates enroll in classes at WCC within three years of their graduation.

What is the administration doing to change these predictions?

If there are enough data to predict an enrollment crash, what exactly is the Administration doing to mitigate it? How do they plan to recapture enrollment? How are they identifying and reaching out to prospective students? Are they seriously suggesting that they are powerless to do anything about the terrible fate that is about to befall WCC? If so, they should all be replaced immediately with administrators who are willing to do what it takes to increase enrollment here.

Baseless “predictions” and professional handwringing do not serve anyone. But this Administration has a habit of using fantasy and falsehoods to justify its poor decisions. The Board has a responsibility to question the Administration when it generates this kind of pap. It must demand clear, complete, and accurate assessments of the College’s condition using all available data.

Further, if the Administration truly believes that there will be a massive decline in the demand for WCC’s course offerings, the Board should immediately order the Administration to develop a mitigation plan. Johnson’s presentation leaves the impression that the Administration is standing by passively while the enrollment at the College crashes. Ridiculously, this is supposed to coincide with the State’s free community college programs.

Above all, the Board must ask why the CFO is reaching around the data to construct this false financial narrative.

Photo Credit: Ana Bernando , via Flickr