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Legislature may increase community college funding

Based on preliminary budget documents published by the House and Senate Fiscal Agencies, it seems the State Legislature is poised to increase community college funding. The current proposal includes a 10% increase in funding for operations, half of which is a one-time grant. Additionally, it appears that our esteemed colleagues in Lansing will authorize additional funding for the Michigan Reconnect program.

Continued funding and expansion of the Michigan Reconnect program would provide Washtenaw Community College a “second bite at the apple.” WCC’s previous attempt to attract students to the campus resulted in declines in both enrollment and credit hours in both the fall and winter semesters.

To be clear, there are Michigan Reconnect students at WCC. But those new students were not enough to offset the overall enrollment losses this academic year. The “free college” programs resulted in a net enrollment gain of nearly 22,000 community college students statewide. On average, that’s nearly 800 students per campus.

So, why did WCC miss out on the gains that other campuses enjoyed?

Better oversight could reduce community college costs

That’s a question that the WCC Trustees should be asking of the Administration. It’s nice that the Administration is concerned about whether the campus is “dark sky compliant.” But I’d rather hear the Administration’s explanation of WCC’s literal inability to give away its services. Frankly, the taxpayers deserve to know why – after collectively throwing a quarter-billion dollars at WCC in the last five years – WCC’s academic programs cannot attract students. We also deserve to know how the Administration plans to correct this to make better use of the Legislature’s largesse.

The Trustees should question why the only new programs the Administration has mailed in lately are certificates. These sub-degree credentials don’t serve the needs of the students who earn them or the employers reject them. And the Department of Education will be taking financial aim at certificates that fail to cross a minimum income threshold.

The Trustees should also question why the Administration must shutter the Culinary Arts program and the Children’s Center after allegedly losing a million dollars on their operations, but it has no problem with the Health and Fitness Center losing $4.5M. No academic program at WCC is a profit-center. Neither was the campus daycare. However, the Health and Fitness Center was absolutely intended to print money. Somehow, despite its staggering losses, that facility remains open. (“Losing money daily since 2007!”)

If profit is the new standard for classroom operations, then the Trustees should demand a full accounting of all instructional programs. Let’s subject them all to the same examination and find out which ones survive.

Photo Credit: Catherine Sharman , via Flickr