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Recession offers chance to shrink WCC administration

Under a deal the US Congress approved last month, Michigan colleges and universities will collectively receive $66M in federal aid. The money was allocated in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Under the CARES Act, WCC will receive $4.9M.

As part of the relief, WCC must distribute about half of the grant as direct aid to its students. Students can use the cash grants to pay for housing, food and other basic expenses. The remainder of the grant will help WCC offset monetary losses due to the coronavirus.

Keeping the grant in perspective, the remaining $2.5M represents more than 26,300 credit hours, based on WCC’s tuition rate of $95 per credit hour. It’s the equivalent of enrolling 440 full-time students in 60-credit-hour degree programs.

The grant – if used correctly – could be very helpful. The key is to use the money wisely. As I wrote about yesterday, three out of four college/university presidents expect to have to lay off staff as the result of the coronavirus. No one likes layoffs, but this does provide an opportunity to “right-size” the administration. Rather than raising student tuition and fees, scale back the size of the administration, and use the savings from reduced salary and benefits costs to increase the instructional budget.

The growth of WCC’s administration is unprecedented. Between 2012 and 2019, the WCC administration swelled its ranks by 57 positions. During the same time, the size of the professional faculty increased by 1%. The sizes of the custodial and maintenance staff and the clerical staff each declined by double digits.

The WCC administration has never been larger

Prior to Rose Bellanca’s arrival, the WCC administration stayed at or below the size of the professional faculty group. There’s a lot of wisdom in keeping the size of the administration small. Over 10 years, the steady additions to the size of the College administration has increased WCC’s payroll costs by millions of dollars. In addition, the indiscriminate hiring spree has significantly increased WCC’s benefits expenses.

That’s not the only reason to dial back the size of the WCC administration. An oversized administration creates a cost liability that can make borrowing more expensive. And lenders will not fail to notice that the size of the administration has swelled while the size of the student body and the professional faculty have not.

Plus, it looks bad to significantly expand the size of the WCC administration, then cry about needing more money to operate.

The Board of Trustees should apply the restraint that the current administration seems incapable of. There is no better time than right now to maximize the resources of the College. By reducing its administrative costs, WCC could offset losses from the COVID-19 pandemic and focus on the needs of its students.

Photo Credit: Frankie Leon, via Flickr