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Focus on enrollment cliff is misguided

I have written about this before, but the growing angst about declining community college enrollment is, in a word, misguided. An increasing number of high school graduates are choosing not to enroll in college. At least not initially. The accessibility of the job market combined with the inflated cost of a college education is creating a so-called enrollment cliff. Throw in some chatter about a declining birth rate and college administrators are downright worried.

(Not worried enough to stop hiring Vice Presidents, but that is a different story.)

Administrators who blame their decreasing student bodies on the enrollment cliff are simply not doing their jobs. Right now, in Michigan, more than a half-million adults have less than a 12th grade education. One out of twenty adults left high school without graduating. In Washtenaw County, only about 5% of adults do not complete a high school education. Community college administrators genuinely worried about enrollment should be developing opportunities for these people to complete their high school credential and perhaps go to college.

For two million adults in Michigan, a high school diploma is their highest educational attainment. In Washtenaw County, nearly 15% of adults have only a high school diploma. The State of Michigan funds multiple programs to entice these residents back to the classroom. Community college administrators could do the same thing.

Nearly 18% of Washtenaw County adults aged twenty-five or older have some college but no degree. That is nearly two out of ten adults. Where is the effort to return these people to the classroom? These people have earned some college credits. They have a partially complete degree.

Enrollment cliff is not the problem

Combined, these groups represent 40% of Washtenaw County’s adult population over the age of twenty-five. The enrollment cliff isn’t the problem. Not getting some of these students in the classroom is. Instead of trying to subsidize more out-of-district students, why doesn’t WCC try to enroll these students? That approach would maximize the taxpayers’ investment in Washtenaw County, and it would actually fulfill the mission of the college.

When WCC administrators say that the College needs to build a hotel and convention center, or parcel out the parking lots for retail spaces, they are admitting that they do not support WCC’s stated mission. That is the best reason I can think of to send those people packing. Two out of five adults in Washtenaw County have no degree. The WCC administration would rather take the money meant to educate them and build a hotel instead?

WCC needs administrators that focus on its mission, and Trustees who are willing to provide authentic oversight. Until we get those two things, WCC’s enrollment is unlikely to improve.

Photo Credit: Gateway Technical College , via Flickr