Last week, we received a mass mail piece from WCC’s Health and Fitness Center offering a deal on membership. The Health and Fitness Center has hit a rough patch thanks to COVID-19 and lost about two-thirds of its members. The mailer is WCC’s effort to rebuild the membership there.
Health and Fitness Center membership is essential to the WCC Administration’s plan for it. Without it -according to Washtenaw CFO Bill Johnson – the College could not pay the Center’s bills. WCC doesn’t own up to the full outlay for the HFC, which should include its deadly maintenance and upkeep, the deferred maintenance and its debt service.
So, after we received the mailer, I couldn’t help but wonder why the WCC administration will actively recruit new members for the Health and Fitness Center, while giving up on finding new Washtenaw County students for its classrooms. That’s especially sad, since new students would bring more money to WCC than HFC memberships ever could. If WCC successfully encouraged its unduplicated headcount to enroll in just one more credit hour per year, WCC would replace all revenue generated by the Health and Fitness Center. Further, putting students in the classroom is WCC’s core business. Running a gym is not.
You also must ask yourself why the WCC Board of Trustees accepts this contradictory position. Why is it essential to spend money to pitch the Health and Fitness Center but not the classes. It gets worse, though. The Health and Fitness Center isn’t making any money right now. The Administration is paying all its considerable costs from the General Fund. By using funds intended for low-cost, high-value education to run a for-profit business, the Administration squanders the only opportunity that some Washtenaw County residents have to complete a degree or train for a new job.
Voters intended to support low-cost higher education, not business ventures like the Health and Fitness Center
The voters never intended to fund money-making ventures at WCC. In fact, I would argue that the voters intended the exact opposite. Washtenaw County taxpayers have been extraordinarily generous to WCC. They’ve funded four separate millages to ensure that WCC has plenty of operating capital. Had they rejected funding requests, one could say the voters sent a clear sign that they prefer WCC engage in speculative business ventures to reduce the need for taxpayer support.
Few people in Washtenaw County complain about the cost of WCC. Millage requests routinely pass by margins of 2:1 or better. And yet, sitting on the Board are individuals who espouse the near-pathological hatred of adequate public funding for education. They promote the idea that it is better to divert educational funding for non-educational purposes – like the Health and Fitness Center. They make explicit plans to spend educational resources on building a hotel and convention center. And they advocate for commercializing Huron River Drive by building commercial spaces in the College parking lots.
This is not forward thinking. Nor is it protecting the investment that Washtenaw County voters have made in WCC. It is a prime example of the wealthy stealing resources intended to lift the county’s poorest and most economically marginalized people out of poverty.
Photo Credit: Richie Diesterheft , via Flickr