Earlier this week, the website EdSurge published a deep dive into which colleges and universities offer the best payoff for low income students. The site compared earning data from public and private, for-profit and non-profit schools in the US. In addition to income data, the site also compared graduation rates and Pell Grant eligibility among the institution’s low income students.
Not surprisingly, schools like the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor fared pretty well. In fact, Big Brother ranked 11th nationwide in economic outcomes for low income students. (Low income students – by the way – were defined as students who come from households with incomes of $30,000 or less.)
Also not surprisingly, Washtenaw Community College – which is arguably much closer to low income students – fared much worse. I’m not going to compare UM to WCC. Despite what a former WCC Trustee said, the two institutions don’t compare. In this case, they serve different populations using different levels of resources, offer different degrees, and have different educational missions.
And WCC was not alone. Most community colleges produced poor results. EdSurge’s metric examined alumni earnings six years after first enrollment. That’s a common measuring stick for universities, but community college students often take substantially longer than six years0 to graduate.
The shortened yardstick makes WCC look even worse. According to the data, the average WCC graduate makes less than $29,000 per year. If you stretch that by another two years, you will find a higher overall cost, but you’ll also find marginally better earnings.
Whether you give WCC six years or eight, the median income for students from low income households is ridiculously low. WCC’s self-reported median income for students is lower than the median income reported for all institutions. Worse, it’s far lower than the minimum income needed to live in Washtenaw County.
Low income students, taxpayers deserve better oversight
So, if you can’t make enough money to live in Washtenaw County, WCC is spending a lot of time and a lot of Washtenaw Couty’s resources training people for jobs that will not pay them enough to live in Washtenaw County once they’ve completed their education. Exactly where is the payoff for Washtenaw County in all of this?
Unless and until WCC can raise the median income of its low income students to the minimum level required to live in Washtenaw County, every graduation, every degree, every certificate – heck -ever class – represents a lost investment on the part of Washtenaw County taxpayers. WCC cannot continue to “donate” our students to other economies, and we cannot continue to trap low-income learners in poverty.
We need actual oversight to hold the WCC administration accountable for its inability to produce graduates who can earn a living wage in Washtenaw County. Our elected trustees are supposed to do this, but they’re not and they haven’t for years – maybe decades. Instead, they take WCC’s operational dollars and spend them on side hustles like the Health and Fitness Center, executive over-staffing, and plans to build a hotel and conference center.
And all while teaching Washtenaw County’s poorest students how to remain poor.
Photo Credit: Ricky Shore , via Flickr