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Innovation rules apply to community colleges

Innovation is critical to survival in the business world. Businesses that don’t innovate don’t last. The same can be said of people who don’t update their skills or evolve as times change. So, it should come as no surprise that the same fate awaits community colleges that don’t update their programs.

Yesterday, I wrote about the lack of innovation among WCC’s new degree programs. The one associate’s degree program in the last two years consists of a new combination of existing classes. The remainder of the new programs got even less attention. They are certificate programs that simply rely on courses from the existing catalog. The short-term certificates are literally worthless.

This area needs new programs, and WCC should be developing them, but it is not. Washtenaw County should have new programs tied to sustainable energy, chip fabrication, and other technology-based careers. Instead, we have “Entrepreneurship Essentials” and a raft of other low-wattage programs that appear to benefit the college more than the students.

The lack of innovation in academic programming traces directly back to the administration’s unwillingness to add full-time faculty to the payroll. (No such restriction applies to the administration and its 13 Vice Presidents.) Full-time faculty develop new curricula. When you deliberately limit the number of full-time instructors, you deliberately limit curriculum development.

Without innovation in academic programs, the community college will die

Some academic programs (like culinary arts) are “evergreen.” They require more content redevelopment than innovation. However, area restaurants always need staff, so killing the culinary arts programs will have an immediate, direct and negative impact on restaurants in Washtenaw County. Restauranteurs will need to look outside of Washtenaw County to find new culinary talent. And they’re likely to have a harder time finding it.

Computer Aided Drafting is another example of a program that WCC killed – shall we say – somewhat prematurely? Businesses today desperately need drafters. Fortunately, WCC got ahead of that curve and dumpstered its drafting program at least a decade ago. Meanwhile, median pay for a drafter today is about $60K annually, and a drafter needs only an associate’s degree. (As a taxpayer, I’m thrilled that WCC has reduced the number of graduates who can fill a $60K job.)

It is time for the Board of Trustees to admit that their “change agent” hasn’t changed WCC for the better. Innovation has ground nearly to a complete halt, and building a hotel somehow looks better than the whole college thing. The newly revised “gainful employment” requirements that will likely return later this year will demonstrate each WCC program’s return-on-investment. Ordinarily, this would result in the Trustees asking some hard questions of the administration, but our current Trustees don’t seem to know how to formulate hard questions.

Washtenaw County taxpayers deserve a much bigger return on their annual tax investment than a few cheap certificates and a mailed-in Associate’s Degree program every other year.

Photo Credit: Siemens, via Flickr