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Proposal 1 issues: student fee finances WCC debts, administrative growth

This is the third in a series that discusses the issues facing voters who will soon decide to re-authorize one of WCC’s four operating millages. Today, we’ll look at he WCC administration’s debt-financing student fee. We’ll also look at how much the administration has grown at WCC, despite a flat enrollment.

Financing WCC debts on the backs of students

Using operating funds to build buildings and pay loan debts comes at a cost. According to WCC’s Chief Financial Officer Bill Johnson, the College cannot divert any more operating funds to debt payments, so WCC plans to institute a $10 per-credit-hour “facilities fee” on student accounts to pay for the new debts. WCC’s current tuition rate is $95 per credit hour for in-district students. For them, this new student fee represents a more than 10.5% increase of the cost of attendance.

According to Johnson, the fee would apply only to students who take classes in-person at the College. Out of district students pay $164 per credit hour for in-person classes. You can see WCC’s current tuition rates here. By creating just a $3 cost difference between in-person and online classes, the $10 per-credit-hour facilities fee would act as a disincentive for in-district students to take courses in-person.

Before you shrug at this, a growing body of evidence suggests that at-risk students perform poorly in online classes. The negative effect of online learning for these students is so profound, it actually increases the likelihood that they will drop out of school. And as you might imagine, community colleges are filled with at-risk students.

Possibly the worst part of this strategy is that the College has no plans to escrow the student fee proceeds specifically for its loan payments. The money will simply go into the General Fund. This leaves open the possibility that WCC will come up short as “operating funds” get diverted to new priorities.

Unchecked administrative growth

Between FY2012 and FY2019, WCC’s administration grew significantly – 32% to be exact. Even if you subtract the 31 outsourced full-time IT employees, Rose Bellanca’s administration is 15% larger in FY2020 than it was when she arrived.

The Center for Educational Performance (CEPI) and Information collects data on staff size for all Michigan community colleges. Using 2018-19 CEPI data, WCC had the third-largest overall staff size of all Michigan community colleges, but the fifth-largest enrollment.

Of the five largest community colleges by enrollment, all but WCC had student-to-staff ratios that exceeded 20:1. Among all Michigan community colleges the average student-to-staff ratio is 15.835:1. WCC’s student-to-staff ratio is 13.987:1, so WCC operates with 190 more staff members than the “average” Michigan community college does. Put another way, four of the five largest community colleges in Michigan make a concerted effort to control their staffing levels.

To be fair, the staffing figures here do not differentiate between full-time employees and part-time employees, or instructional versus institutional staff. But the growth of WCC’s staff has not come from adding full-time instructors, office and clerical personnel or custodial and maintenance workers.

The size of WCC’s full-time instructional staff has grown by just 1% (2 people) in the past decade. The size of the custodial staff has dropped by nearly 11%. (Custodial staff vacancies account for the majority of WCC’s open full-time positions.) WCC’s clerical staff has decreased by nearly 15%, and the enrollment has been largely stable for years. But the size of the administration has grown by 57 people since FY2012.

Proposal 1 considerations on student fee

Making the students pay for WCC’s debts amounts to being complicit in a plan to finance WCC’s poorly thought-out capital projects. If the Trustees lack the courage to ask for voter support, it’s likely because the projects are not worth doing.

A new student fee should not be the default strategy for financing meritless construction and remedying the administration’s inaction on building maintenance. And the Board has the authority to restrain hiring by the administration but chooses not to. Failing to control administrative spending needlessly increases the cost of attendance.

The WCC Board of Trustees is not an advisory panel. For the good of Washtenaw County, spending control must be part of the WCC Board’s governance strategy.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at the pattern of building neglect that WCC has engaged in and what that’s actually costing the taxpayers. We’ll also look at how the taxpayers are being served by WCC’s runaway Board of Trustees.

Photo Credit: Pictures of Money , via Flickr