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Improving retention rates can boost enrollment

A common theme from the WCC administration is that it needs additional revenue to offset a loss in student enrollment. This statement ignores the fact that the majority of WCC’s revenue does not come from student tuition. Currently, the largest contributor to WCC’s annual budget is the county’s property tax assessment.

The administration’s case for alternative revenue sources would be more compelling if property values in Washtenaw County were falling. They’re not. In fact, WCC can expect to collect $60M in funding without enrolling a single student. The property tax cap in Michigan also means that property taxes will continue to rise for some number of years, even if property values in the county fall.

Retention efforts keep students enrolled

Right now, WCC does not have a good understanding of why students leave without completing a degree, or where they go. At a recent Board meeting, the administration seemed mystified by the “loss” of continuing students. The President admitted that the College does not know if students have left because they’ve graduated, transferred or simply dropped out. Minimally, WCC should know which of its students graduated; reasonably, the College can expect these students not to continue enrolling. Similarly, it should know which of its students have transferred to another institution.

The students who have neither graduated nor transferred present an opportunity to increase enrollment. Student retention should be a high priority for WCC. Recent studies have shown that students who receive high quality academic advising while on campus tend to complete their degrees.

Community college graduation rates have always been low. Often, students will enroll to take specific classes, but may have no interest in seeking a degree. Working closely with students as they begin their program of study is one way WCC can boost its enrollment. While recruiting new students is always important, retaining students and helping them to earn a degree or certificate is equally important. Further, it obviates the “need” for non-mission-centric revenue streams. With a large pool of adult learners to draw from, maintaining enrollment at WCC should be an achievable goal.

Before the Board of Trustees authorizes the WCC administration to pursue one cent of additional revenue from sources unrelated to the College’s mission, it should require the administration to make a concerted effort to retain more students.

Photo Credit: Lower Columbia College , via Flickr