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Questioning WCC’s tuition increase

At Tuesday’s Board Meeting, the WCC Board of Trustees approved a $4 per hour tuition increase for in-district students. Trustee David DeVarti, who in 2020 opposed a $10 per hour proposed infrastructure fee, subsequently approved a $5 per hour “technology infrastructure” fee in 2022 and now a $4 per hour tuition bump.
In approving the increase, DeVarti said:

Here’s a transcript if you don’t want to view the video.

On principle, I don’t oppose raising tuition when the increase is for the right reasons. In his statement, Trustee DeVarti says that the tuition increase will enable the College to invest in the quality of instruction and academic support for students at WCC. Remember that. If we (generously) assume that the number of credit hours WCC will deliver next year stays roughly the same as it is now, the $4 tuition increase will raise approximately $900,000 in its first year.

I’m being generous about suggesting that credit hours will stay the same because I know they will not. I have tracked WCC’s enrollment following tuition increases. Historically, when the WCC Board of Trustees has raised the tuition by $4 or more, enrollment across virtually all student demographics has dropped, as have the number of credit hours the remaining students take. Raising tuition by $4 or more per credit hour has triggered an enrollment decline every single time the Trustees have done it. Fall 2023 will be no different.

Tuition increase versus budget cut

In his full-throated support of a tuition increase, Trustee DeVarti never asked whether the WCC Administration could cut the budget by $900,000 to avoid a tuition increase. (That’s less than eight-tenths of one percent of the current budget, by the way. To put this in perspective, that’s cutting $767 out of a $100,000 budget.) Likewise, there was no apparent acknowledgment by any of the Trustees who approved the tuition increase that the county property tax assessment will raise nearly $7 million in additional revenue for the College this year.

So, in a year when Washtenaw County taxpayers will send an additional $7M to WCC, what exactly drives the need to raise revenues through tuition? If – as Trustee DeVarti says – the College needs the money to invest in instruction and student support, can we expect the instructional budget to increase by nearly $1M? The current administration has historically disinvested in instruction. When adjusted for inflation, the WCC instructional budget has declined by 12.5% since 2015.

As I said, I am not opposed to raising tuition on principle, but to borrow from Sir Isaac Newton, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. In this case, when tuition increases by $4 or more at WCC, enrollment decreases at WCC. So, someone needs to ask two questions.

First, what is driving the need to raise tuition when property tax revenues will increase by nearly 10%? Second, is the extra $800,000-$900,000 that a $4 per credit hour tuition increase might yield worth driving the enrollment further downward?

I guess I’ll do it, since no one else is going to.

Photo Credit: Robert Huffstutter , via Flickr