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Misleadership at Washtenaw Community College

If you have not taken the time to look at the Washtenaw Community College website, please do. One portion of the website attempts to guide prospective students to different programs of study. The problem with the website is that it contains a lot of bad information. By “bad information,” I mean information that is not only factually incorrect, but also presented in a way that deliberately misleads would-be students.

Let me show you what I mean.

Go to the WCC website , click on Learn , and then choose Academic Pathways.

Choose a tile. I chose “Business and Entrepreneurship,” but you can see what I mean from any tile. Selecting a tile will lead you to a list of certificate and degree programs that relate to the “academic pathway” of interest.

In Business and Entrepreneurship, select Accounting for Business.

The first thing you will see is a program description. It says:

This certificate program prepares students for entry-level positions such as a bookkeeper or accounting clerk with accounting and tax services, CPA firms, and small businesses. They will provide accounting skills, computer skills, and office support. It also gives students credit that can be applied toward the associate degree in accounting.

This is a high demand, high skill program as defined by the Michigan Community College Network.

Washtenaw Community College – Accounting for Business Certificate Example

Below the program description is another section called Career Outlook in Michigan. This section lists occupations that a reasonable person would interpret as being fundamentally related to the Accounting for Business certificate program. Alternately, one might assume that the Accounting for Business certificate would prepare an individual to work in one of the four occupations listed. They are:

  • Treasurers and Controllers
  • Accountants and Auditors
  • Insurance Underwriters
  • Tax Examiners and Collectors, and Revenue Agents

If you select an occupation, the website reveals graphics that show median earnings on the left and the anticipated number of annual job openings on the right. (Remember this: it is important.)

Unfortunately, the information is almost entirely misleading.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the typical entry-level educational requirements for the occupations listed are:

Occupation Entry level education Additional requirements
Treasurers and Controllers Bachelor’s Degree 5+ years of experience
Accountants and Auditors Bachelor’s Degree Moderate on-the-job training
Insurance Underwriters Bachelor’s Degree
Tax Examiners and Collectors, and Revenue Agents Bachelor’s Degree Moderate on-the job training

Washtenaw Community College does not offer bachelor’s degrees. It also does not inform the prospective student that these occupations require significant additional academic work (not available at WCC) and either considerable experience or on-the-job training to become qualified to work in these fields.

Worse, the website implies that a certificate-holder could earn the posted salary. Again, using BLS data, the table below compares WCC’s projected salary with Michigan wage data.

Occupation WCC BLS wage data Percentile
Treasurers and Controllers $121,124 $126,230 50th
Accountants and Auditors $68,889 $76,450 50th
Insurance Underwriters $67,197 $76,390* 50th
Tax Examiners and Collectors, and Revenue Agents $63,773* $56,780* 50th

* Used national data, Michigan-specific data not available

In this section, Washtenaw Community College reports the position’s median annual salary. Fifty percent of the workers in these occupations earn less than (or more than) the median. The median annual salary is not the starting wage for the position. Someone brand new to the position will not earn the median annual salary for several years.

Remember, I told you that the position of the salary information was important? People naturally look to the left side of the page for the “important” information. The salary data is deliberately placed on the left to draw a viewer’s attention to it. People will virtually ignore the employment projections on the right because they are drawn to the salary data on the left.

Which brings me to the projections – the ones you did not look at because you focused on the salary data instead. The occupational projections for annual job openings are wrong. The table below shows projected employment on WCC’s website, versus employment projections by the State of Michigan for the same occupations.

Occupation Projection (WCC) Projection (SOM)
Treasurers and Controllers 1,668 1,720
Accountants and Auditors 4,078 250
Insurance Underwriters 326 -250
Tax Examiners and Collectors, and Revenue Agents 58 -2,100

Decisions, decisions

In three of the four cases in this example, the projected employment is not just off: it is wildly wrong. The problem with being wrong here is that people might use this information to decide what to do with the rest of their lives. WCC is proclaiming that there’s opportunity in these occupations when there is not.

WCC could easily have provided actual employment and wage data for the entry-level positions it trains people for. The administrators there chose not to.

The Accounting for Business certificate is just one example of the dangerously misleading data on WCC’s website. WCC takes this exact same approach to dozens of academic programs. This isn’t a small matter. WCC has a financial interest in getting students to enroll in classes. When the College provides inaccurate, incomplete information about its programs of study and pairs it with non-contextual employment outcomes for the purpose of enticing people to pay for classes, this is not just an oversight. It is also not simply a matter of using outdated data.

It is a deliberate attempt to mislead. It is beneath the dignity of a publicly funded institution, and it is fully unacceptable.

Photo Credit: kygp, via Flickr