Time and time again, the WCC Administration has complained that the enrollment at WCC will drop due to a decline in the number of college-age students. According to WCC’s CFO, Bill Johnson, we’re right in the middle of this 17-year trough. As a result, WCC will need to develop a long-term plan to develop other revenue streams. This includes a hotel, convention center and retail spaces on WCC’s campus. The Administration regularly feeds the WCC Trustees this line of BS.
So, naturally, there are problems with this scenario. First, WCC’s enrollment hasn’t dropped yet – at least, not as a result of a decline in the number of high school graduates. Setting aside the pandemic, WCC’s enrollment showed a slight increase from 2013 to 2019. So much for a trough. The truth is that WCC’s unduplicated headcount has gone up during this period. The WCC Trustees should ask the Administration why it is telling them otherwise.
Second, if enrollment declines, what exactly does a mission-focused community college need more money for? Shouldn’t a decline in enrollment also reduce its costs? Personnel costs are WCC’s largest obligation. Fewer students mean fewer classes, fewer teachers and less need for administration. With fewer students on campus, there is also less demand for classrooms, so there’s no need to build additional buildings. The WCC Trustees should ask the Administration to explain why it needs to retain 10 Vice Presidents and dozens of directors and managers, when it claims enrollment will be in decline for years.
WCC Trustees fail the community when they don’t demand honesty
Third, the claimed decrease in the number of high school graduates is problematic on two levels. One, WCC’s under-20 enrollment grew by 33% between 2013 and 2019. While other community colleges may be seeing a decline in enrollment by recent high school graduates, WCC has not. Two, by deliberately focusing only on recent high school graduates, the Administration does not tell the full story. Slightly more than one-third (36%) of WCC’s fall enrollment in 2019 were students 18-22. The WCC Trustees should ask the WCC Administration to explain its plan to increase enrollment among students over the age of 22 and students under the age of 18, if the number of students 18-22 is in decline.
As a community, we cannot allow the WCC Trustees to approve the redirection and long-term commitment of educational dollars to anything except education. We do not need additional academic space at WCC. First, the enrollment is stable, and there is no demonstrated need for additional academic space. Second, the WCC Administration has done an abysmal job of allocating sufficient resources to care for the existing buildings. Additional construction will only reduce the amount of funds available to care for all other buildings.
WCC is one of the best-funded community colleges in Michigan. It does not need additional revenue, but rather, it needs fewer expenses. It needs an administration that makes an authentic commitment to educating people out of poverty every single day. The WCC Trustees must recognize that such a commitment does not require commercializing Huron River Drive. They must acknowledge that WCC will not thrive by building a hotel downwind of the sewage treatment plant. And they must admit that building a Starbucks in the College parking lot will not lower Washtenaw County’s poverty rate.
None of these strategies are central to WCC’s mission. The WCC Trustees should ask themselves why they are willing to waste educational dollars on them.
Photo Credit: Federico , via Flickr