Press "Enter" to skip to content

Prioritizing low-wage jobs over high-need fields

Every state, including Michigan, has a need for workers in specific fields. Michigan has identified 386 fields with significant employment potential here. Additionally, the state developed tools to help residents locate educational resources that will lead to jobs in these high-need fields. To do that, the tool matches available academic programs at each school with these high-need jobs.

For instance, Michigan has a strong need for aircraft mechanics. The tool will tell the user what programs at a particular educational institution align most closely with the state’s defined need. Since WCC is a certificate school these days, I filtered the list of all high-need positions by those that require only a certificate. That paired the list from 386 to 20.

In several cases, the tool aligned a WCC certificate program with more than one of the state’s most needed employment areas. Using the example above, the tool matched WCC’s vehicle maintenance and repair programs to the state’s need for aircraft mechanics and automotive mechanics. A student in an auto program will learn absolutely nothing about aircraft maintenance, but the auto programs are the closest WCC’s programs come to it.

I started out with twenty high-need fields that, according to the state, require only certificate programs. Since the state released the tool, WCC has canceled some of the programs (Culinary Arts, for example). It also matched the same WCC certificate program to multiple state needs. The upshot is that the tool identified ten active WCC certificate programs that could potentially help fill some of the state’s employment needs.

Jobs in high-need fields go unfilled

According to the state’s data on these high-need fields, the average income of graduates in these fields was $34,500. That is just two-thirds of the lower salary range for the middle class ($53,300 – $161,000). Just one of WCC’s 10 certificate programs (HVAC) comes within 10% of the lower limit of the middle class. Worse than the poor pay, these certificate programs simply do not line up with Michigan’s identified needs for workers.

Under these circumstances, it should be no surprise that WCC graduates have not been able to parlay a WCC certificate (or in some cases, a degree), into living-wage jobs. The college continues to offer academic programs that lead to low-demand, low-wage jobs while the state’s high-wage, high-demand positions remain unfilled.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to create certificate (and degree) programs that closely align with the State’s specific employment needs? And wouldn’t it make sense to dump the academic programs that miss the mark to better address high-need fields? They do not serve employers, which means they also do not serve the students.

Monroe County Community College recently announced that it planned to eliminate its Culinary Arts program. Effective next semester, MCCC will offer its culinary arts classes as non-credit/personal enrichment classes. That is a promising idea. If a program cannot draw student, consider it for the college’s non-credit portfolio and substitute an academic program that can generate more demand. And, if as a non-credit offering, it still cannot draw students, it is ok to retire it altogether.

If a tree falls in the forest, but no one is around to hear it…

Photo Credit: Nahid V., via Flickr