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Free community college wins again

On Tuesday, the State of Michigan began taking applications for a free community college program for adults age 25 and up. The program also offered a “skills scholarship” of $1,500 for skilled trades training. Within 24 hours, the State had closed the skilled training scholarship because it had already received 1,700 applicants. The free community college portion of the program is still accepting applications, having already accepted 19,000 in the first 24 hours.

This is the second free community college program in Michigan that has been overwhelmed with applications out of the gate. Clearly, the demand for vocational and occupational education is alive and well. While anyone can go to a community college, they’re clearly designed to appeal to people with resource challenges.

But for cost, there is no reason our community college enrollment should be down. So, why does our community college president insist that our community college needs to do something other than educate people? Washtenaw Community College does not need to generate “other income” through a stream of costly-yet-unrelated activities. It needs to figure out how to finance resource-poor would-be students.

Free community college begins by educating people

Free community college programs grab headlines. The unvarnished power of “free” motivated nearly 20,000 Michigan residents to apply for benefits of the program on its first day. In reality, federal financial aid does most of the heavy lifting on free community college programs.
Free college initiatives are typically “last dollar” programs. They pay only for what federal financial aid and all other scholarship monies do not. The federal financial aid program is as old as Washtenaw Community College is. The people who work at WCC know exactly how the federal financial aid program works.

But people who would benefit most from federal financial aid programs do not. The free community college programs demonstrate that WCC (and every other community college in Michigan) could correct their enrollment issues by educating would-be students about federal financial aid and other educational grants that would eliminate their cost of attendance.

Washtenaw County residents built WCC to assist the most resource-poor members of our community. Operating a community college is about putting students in classrooms. It is not about building hotels and convention centers. Nor is it about building health clubs for executives using public funds intended for education. Most certainly, it is not about putting Starbucks in “retail outlots” on the community college campus.

  • Beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • Clear and convincing evidence.
  • A preponderance of the evidence.

Use whatever standard you like. The facts are simple. There is no lack of people in Washtenaw County who want to escape poverty. They simply don’t know about the resources available to them to make that happen, and WCC’s administration has not done enough to change that.

Photo Credit: MDC Padron Campus , via Flickr