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Increasing enrollment starts with focusing on students

According to a report published by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, about one-third of entering college freshmen will not complete a degree within eight years. On average, each year about 2,000,000 students begin a post-secondary degree. More than 650,000 people in each cohort will leave school with “some college, no degree.” This creates opportunity for WCC to boost enrollment by developing pathways for these students to complete a post-secondary credential.

“Completers” – students who re-enroll to complete a credential – are most likely to re-enroll at a public institution. Further, they’re more likely to complete a degree in the state where they were most recently enrolled. There are nearly 1.1M people in Michigan that fall into the “some college” category. If 10% of them could be turned into “completers” that would be more than 100,000 people re-entering college.

Completing an educational credential offers a lot of benefits, not the least of which is lifetime higher earnings. Better employment prospects can also provide better health care benefits, higher rates of personal and retirement savings; and higher rates of home ownership. In a 2016 study, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that the number of single mothers living in poverty dropped by nearly half when those women earned an associate’s degree. Earning a bachelor’s degree dropped the percentage of single mothers living in poverty by two-thirds.

The IWPR report sums up the value of post—secondary degree completion this way:

“In 2016, poverty among all single mothers would have declined by more than three times the rate seen over the last decade if just one in four single mothers with a high school education or some college had earned a college degree.”

Diverting educational resources won’t improve enrollment

Low educational attainment is one of the root causes of poverty among single mothers. It also factors into lower income among people who start – but don’t finish – a college degree. The same story plays out among African-Americans, Latinx, and Asian students who leave school without an educational credential.

If WCC has an enrollment problem (the numbers don’t really bear that out), or if the Administration thinks the College might develop one in the future, these facts reveal ample opportunity to increase enrollment by developing programs to help people re-enter school and complete degrees. Further, by creating resources to locate, recruit, and enroll students from single-parent and other disadvantaged households, WCC could help lift local individuals and families out of poverty. In other words, WCC could actually fulfill the mission of the community college.

There’s a lot of work to be done here. Clearly, education is an effective weapon to counteract poverty. Rather than using WCC’s tax appropriation to fund a hotel and convention center, the administration would do well to recognize the mission-relevant opportunities right in front of them.

Photo Credit: Andrea Williams , via