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Free community college program proves popular

Since Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced the free community college program, more than 40,000 prospective students have signed up. Nine days. (Who knew?) The program, Futures for Frontliners, offers two years of free community college tuition for certain Michigan workers.

The program will accept applications until December 31, 2020 for qualified students. Enrollees must complete at least 12 credit hours per year and maintain at least a 2.0 GPA to remain eligible for the program. Students can begin taking classes in Winter 2021, but they may also defer enrollment until later in the year.

Even if the program has already collected its last applicant, 40,000 new enrollees statewide average to more than 1,400 per community college. Were WCC’s enrollment to increase by 1,400 students, its tuition revenues would rise by more than $1.6M annually. That assumes each qualified student is in-district, enrolls for only the minimum 12 required hours, and WCC makes good on its promise to raise tuition by only $1 per credit hour for in-district students.

If 1,400 eligible students enroll in a 2-year degree program, that could mean an extra $8M in tuition revenues from that cohort. Which sounds pretty good right about now.

Increased enrollment results from free community college programs

WCC doesn’t have much control over property tax values or tax collections, nor does it have much sway in terms of the annual State appropriation. The best way for the College to generate additional cash is to recruit degree-seeking students. Forget about building hotels, or chasing summer training programs that displace tuition-paying students, or pushing non-credit classes. Just educate people.

The second-best way to generate additional cash is to cut unnecessary spending. WCC does not need 10 Vice Presidents. Honestly, it probably doesn’t even need five. Keep in mind that WCC hasn’t increased the size of the full-time faculty by 10 people in years. The Board should not permit the Administration to add one more executive until it increases the size of the professional faculty sufficiently to achieve parity with the Administration. If WCC can’t afford more teachers, it can’t afford more executives. Period.

A side benefit of adding full-time teachers is that they tend to improve existing academic programs and develop new ones. More full-time teachers and more programs attract more students. On the other hand, cutting teachers and programs appears to have the opposite effect.

It’s pretty obvious that free community college programs put students in classrooms. In 2021, Michigan will have the opportunity to experience massive community college enrollment growth that would otherwise probably not occur.

The Futures for Frontliners free community college program will not last forever. That being said, the Board of Trustees must insist that WCC’s highly compensated Administration develop creative strategies for providing free community college options after this program ends.

Photo Credit: Duy Nguyen , via Flickr