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Median home price explains empty community colleges

Unfortunately, Bankrate’s newest housing price survey isn’t an April Fool’s Day joke. According to the data, the average home buyer in 22 states will need a six-figure salary to close the deal. In actual dollars, the median home price in the US has exceeded $400,000, and a buyer is going to need to clear at least $110,000.

Every state is different, and as it turns out, Michigan is NOT among the 22 states where this scenario is in play. Actually, Michigan is one of the cheapest states to live in. To buy the median priced home here in the Great Lakes State, the buyer will only need to show an income of about $66,350, where the median home price is a much more affordable $228,100.

Think about that for a minute. The median home price in Michigan is nearly a quarter of a million dollars. Also think about this: in 2020, the median home price in Michigan was $166,500 and a buyer needed an income of $48,500 to make the payments. That was just four years ago. In that short amount of time, the median home price has risen by 37%.

Income here hasn’t risen quite that fast. In 2020, the median household income here was $59,200. In 2024, the median household income in Michigan is $67,000. That’s a 13% increase. In other words, the cost of housing in this state has risen about 3 times faster than the average income during the same period.

According to the College Scorecard, the average WCC student’s median income after attendance was $36,100. I can’t really use the phrase “WCC graduate” because certificates aren’t considered college degrees. A student who earns a non-degree certificate doesn’t qualify as a college graduate. (That’s not my distinction; that belongs to the US Department of Education.)

Median home price requires more than community college degree

At an average salary of $36,000, I wouldn’t call someone who attended WCC “employed.” I’d call them under-employed. Or maybe under-compensated? Working two jobs? ALICE?

I certainly wouldn’t call too many of them home buyers – at least not in Washtenaw County. In February 2024, the median home price in Washtenaw County was $371,000. That’s more than ten times the average salary of a WCC … attendee. To afford the median home in Washtenaw County, a buyer would likely need a salary in the range of $102,000-$108,000.

Using the standard “28%” rule-of-thumb regarding housing expenditures, a person making $36,000 could afford a monthly housing payment of $840.00.

If you think that renting in Washtenaw County is the other housing alternative, you should know that the average rent in Ann Arbor is somewhere between $1,650 and $2,100 per month. To afford that kind of rental housing, a person would need to make between $66,000 and $84,000 per year. (That’s between $32 and $41 per hour.)

Ypsilanti is a little kinder, with average rents between $1,010 and $1,150. That requires a salary of between $40,400 and $46,000. That’s still not within the range of what a WCC salary will get you. My point is that permanent housing costs have increased by more than one-third in the past four years. A WCC attendee’s average salary decreased by 3% last year alone.

When will our elected Trustees – whose job it is to provide oversight over the expenditure of our tax dollars – demand that WCC’s academic programs result in higher than poverty-level wages for the people who pay to attend classes there?

Going to college should get you out of poverty, not ensure that you remain there indefinitely.

Photo Credit: Steve Petrucelli , via Flickr