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Free community college could be an asset to universities

Yesterday, I wrote about comments the CEO of the Michigan Association of State Universities made regarding Governor Whitmer’s free community college plan. Dan Hurley opined that the community colleges would draw a significant number of students away from the regional universities.

If cost were the major driver of this supposed exodus, students would already be flooding community colleges because community colleges are oh-so-much less expensive than universities as it is. That’s clearly not happening now, so it seems unlikely that the expansion would somehow open the floodgates.

Third, most Michigan students aren’t ready for university coursework, according to the data collected by the State of Michigan. Does Hurley really want to fill Michigan’s regional universities with ill-prepared students? That seems like it has the potential to do a lot of damage to the regional universities. It also seems counter-productive – maybe even predatory – to admit students who have a higher chance of failing than succeeding.

It seems as though community colleges – which are better prepared to support underprepared students – have a role in helping universities reach these students once they are better able to manage the demands of university level coursework. However, the university transfer rate among Michigan’s community colleges is – shall we say – suboptimal. Even fewer students among those who transfer successfully manage to graduate with a bachelor’s degree.

It would seem that just as community colleges have a role in preparing students to transfer, universities also have a role in making sure that community college transfer students transition successfully to the university environment.

Universities could benefit from free community college

If Hurley’s concern is that the public universities will lose money on students who show up with 60 credits in their backpacks, that’s also not likely a huge concern. Both of my kids transferred to universities, and between the relatively faulty advising they received from WCC, their changes of majors and selection of minors, they have each spent four years on campus at their universities. Aside from the coveted room-and-board, their universities lost absolutely nothing.

Free community college is very likely an endeavor that is mostly harmless to the universities, but it does represent an opportunity to reclaim some students via transfers who they otherwise would never have enrolled. After all, half a loaf is better than none, right?

The free community college plan is not a competition. Rather, it is an opportunity to work together for mutual benefit. Should the program come to pass, Michigan’s community colleges would do very well to work more closely with the public universities to (vastly) improve transfer advising, the rigor of their transfer courses, and the student’s overall transfer experience to the university.

Photo Credit: Melinda Young Stuart , via Flickr