Press "Enter" to skip to content

Lansing gives WCC another crack at state tuition aid

In next year’s state budget, Washtenaw Community College will have another chance to capture state tuition aid. Although Michigan’s free college programs attracted tens of thousands of applicants, Washtenaw Community College failed to capitalize on the measures.

Following the onset of the pandemic, Governor Gretchen Whitmer created two tuition assistance plans for Michigan residents. The first, Futures for Frontliners, offers free community college tuition to eligible frontline employees. The second, Michigan Reconnect, offers state tuition aid to adults over the age of 25 who have not earned a college credential.

In the budget passed by the state legislature this week, legislators approved funding for the Michigan Achievement Scholarship, which will provide $3,000 for recent high school graduates to attend a Michigan community college. Unlike the free tuition programs, the Michigan Achievement Scholarship is a means-based, last-dollar grant. Students must demonstrate a financial need to be eligible for the state tuition aid. Currently, students whose Expected Family Contribution (EFC) as determined by their FAFSA filings is below $25,000 qualify for the funds. About two-thirds of Michigan high school students are expected to benefit from the program. Lawmakers agreed to fund the Michigan Achievement Scholarship through 2026.

The MAS state tuition aid program provides yet another opportunity for Washtenaw Community College to get students in the door. For the most part, WCC has accrued very little benefit from the first two programs. Enrollment and credit hours were down by more than 5% each for the fall and winter semesters. While WCC did gain students from these programs, those gains were not enough to offset the even larger enrollment losses among non-qualifying students.

Community colleges that can’t make “free” work will lose state tuition aid

So, the question is: What will the WCC administration do to attract area high school graduates to campus? Based on the outcome of the first two programs, it’s a valid question. When the State offers to pay full tuition and fees for eligible students, and the WCC administration cannot find a way to make use of the literal multi-million dollar gift that has been handed to it, Washtenaw County taxpayers need to start questioning whether WCC has the right administrative team and the best Trustees sitting on the Board right now.

The cash-for-credits programs are not 100% point-and-click from the institution’s perspective, but they’re pretty close. Enrolling students into FREE college programs should not have been that hard. The WCC administration should have been able to come up with a strategy to enroll willing students in a program that cost students nothing and had the potential to bring in $5M in new tuition revenues for WCC.

In case you’re wondering, the $5M comes from an average of 788 new students per campus x 60 credit hours, x $105 per credit hour.

Had the oversized (and clearly under-motivated) WCC Administration properly prepared itself to take advantage of the state tuition aid program, the resulting cash could have completely obviated the need for a tuition fee increase of nearly 5%.

A word to the wise: the Legislature is notoriously fickle and has a short attention span. It is painfully clear that if the community colleges fail to register enough qualified students to help the State achieve its goals of 60 by 30, the funding will stop. Once it stops, it will not start again.

Third time’s the charm, I guess. Then again, “Three strikes and you’re out!” also seems apt.

Photo Credit: Mario Klingemann , via Flickr