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Ranking Michigan community colleges

So, about once a week, someone writes an article about “the 10 best community colleges.” This week, it was Wallet Hub’s turn. Unlike most articles, Wallet Hub didn’t stop at 10. They ranked nearly 700 community colleges across the country and 22 Michigan community colleges. They used 18 different measurements to determine their “best” list.

Wallet Hub started with the members of the American Association of Community Colleges. They didn’t include all members of the AACC, largely because of data availability. For Michigan, that left out Alpena Community College, Henry Ford College, Jackson College, Lake Michigan College, Northwestern Michigan College, and Schoolcraft College.

For the remaining Michigan community colleges, Wallet Hub evaluated them in three major categories: Cost and Financing, Educational Outcomes and Career Outcomes.

How Michigan community colleges ranked

Overall Rank College Name Overall Score Cost and Financing Educational Outcomes Career Outcomes
86 Monroe County Community College 61.75 188 237 214
116 Gogebic Community College 60.72 216 106 337
117 Lansing Community College 60.66 205 212 286
138 West Shore Community College 60.05 103 74 556
141 Kellogg Community College 59.98 92 285 469
146 Delta College 59.89 135 265 391
167 St Clair County Community College 59.42 247 195 310
188 Washtenaw Community College 59.02 139 268 442
198 Macomb Community College 58.93 187 503 255
216 Montcalm Community College 58.55 225 240 392
246 Kalamazoo Valley Community College 57.56 156 404 452
259 Grand Rapids Community College 57.3 251 421 330
287 Bay de Noc Community College 56.69 180 209 562
298 Glen Oaks Community College 56.39 119 557 445
321 Muskegon Community College 55.71 268 317 466
347 North Central Michigan College 54.87 308 94 530
360 Kirtland Community College 54.54 307 134 528
366 Oakland Community College 54.3 164 598 443
374 Mid Michigan Community College 53.93 256 543 449
382 Southwestern Michigan College 53.68 218 573 472
467 Mott Community College 51.05 95 618 640
517 Wayne County Community College District 49.38 182 562 667

Cost and Financing

I’m not usually a big fan of rankings. In many cases, the criteria are arbitrary. In this particular case, the rankings are at least interesting.

Rose Bellanca likes to proclaim WCC as “the best community college in Michigan.” According to Wallet Hub, that’s apparently hyperbolic. WCC landed in the 188th spot overall (top 30%) and 8th in the state. While WCC does have the lowest tuition rate in the state, there’s more to the cost of attendance than tuition. In this category, WCC ranks 139th overall, and 6th among Michigan’s community colleges. In Wallet Hub World, things like free community college, the average aid package, employment services for students, per-pupil spending, spending efficiency (my favorite) and faculty salary also drive the cost of attendance.

I have to admit to being disappointed the institution’s debt obligations and building neglect were not factored in as cost drivers. They’re ticking time bombs and should be thought of as such. By ranking WCC in the 8th spot, Wallet Hub is saying that there’s much more WCC could be doing to lower the cost of attendance.

Educational outcomes

WCC doesn’t score nearly as well in terms of “Educational Outcomes.” At 268th, WCC ranks in the top 40% of all community colleges, and the top 50% of all Michigan community colleges. Educational outcomes include the things you would expect: retention rates; transfer rates; graduation rates, etc. It also includes the ratio of full-time faculty to students. Pursuing a policy of tightly restricted growth for full-time faculty while permitting unrestrained growth of the administration has a detectable impact on students’ educational outcomes.

Who knew?

Career Outcomes

Here’s where the wheels fall off for WCC. Three criteria here tell a story: student loan default rate; median salary after attending; and share of former students earning more than the average high school graduate.

Bottom 36%.

WCC receives the third-highest property tax assessment among Michigan community colleges. It has the resources to provide high quality education that delivers high quality results for its alumni. And yet, nearly 2 out of 3 WCC alumni are no better off than the average high school graduate in terms of earnings. WCC students don’t pay a lot, but they don’t get much, either.

That’s not hard to believe, but it is hard to accept. And it has to change.

We need Trustees who will put their rubber stamps aside and hold the College’s enormous administration accountable for improving this.

Photo Credit: Adam Theo , via Flickr