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Managing Public Investment in WCC

You can easily find information about the declining public investment in higher education. In addition to tuition hikes, universities have increasingly turned to a variety of strategies to raise money. They include public and private research dollars, athletics, student housing, endowments, public-private partnerships, licensing deals, sponsorships and a host of other ventures. Community colleges don’t have access to most of those options, so managing public investment in WCC is essential.

WCC is not like most community colleges in Michigan. 21 of Michigan’s 28 community colleges rely Lansing to provide at least 20% of their operating funds. At something like 13.5%, Washtenaw is the least reliant on the State of Michigan for funding. It also has one of the lowest tuition and fee structures. Which means that the public investment in WCC (by Washtenaw County taxpayers) is high. Very, very high. It’s obvious that Washtenaw County taxpayers value education.

But don’t be fooled by the state’s apparently low contribution to WCC. Data from the state legislature doesn’t support the notion of a massive disinvestment in WCC by the state. For the most part, state appropriations (in dollars) have remained steady or increased marginally during the last decade. In a few instances, funding from the state has declined from one year to the next.

The WCC Administration has offered a shameful song-and-dance lamenting the size of the state appropriation. What they don’t want to draw attention to is the size of the local public investment in WCC. Whatever WCC’s state appropriation is or is not, the Washtenaw County taxpayers more than make up for it.

Board is responsible for overseeing our public investment

Instead of putting those revenues to good use, the WCC administration (with the full blessing of the Board of Trustees) has spent down our public investment on worthless endeavors like massively inflating the size of the Administration, and saddling the College with the bills from the Health and Fitness Center. The Administration spent $2.5M to buy out its own IT staff, and then spent an additional $26M (on a no-bid contract) to replace them with an out-of-state firm. The lax spending controls in place at the College have resulted in a structural deficit at one of the “richest community college” in the State.

Paradoxically, the Administration has only $300,000 this year to spend on building maintenance, but they somehow have $2.5M each year to spend on “deferred maintenance.” (Which they could spend $0 on if they just maintained our buildings properly in the first place.) And they want to borrow additional funds to build another building, despite being unable to take care of the buildings they have.

Ultimately, the Board of Trustees is responsible for all of this. Their sheer unwillingness to exercise any meaningful oversight over the Administration is the largest, most consistent and most damaging counter-investment in WCC.

Photo Credit: Clint LaLonde