A coronavirus vaccine has been available for less than a month, and its long-term impacts remain to be seen. I’ve received different opinions by multiple medical professionals. The vaccine will be available to the public in April. Or May. Or July.Maybe later. But regardless of the pandemic’s status, colleges and universities are beginning to plan for the fall. Their highest priority should be recruiting students.
As many as 20% of would-be students skipped enrollment this fall. For some, 2020 will be a “gap year.” But too many of the Class of 2024 will never return to the classroom. For a state like Michigan, this goes beyond “problem” and straight into “crisis.” Michigan already has a lower-than-average college graduation rate. In fact, Michigan is in the bottom third of all states in terms of educational attainment. Just over 28% of adults over the age of 25 have a bachelor’s degree. Michigan ranks 30th among states when associate’s degrees are factored in.
2020’s missing college freshmen will impact the State of Michigan – and individual residents – for quite a while. The state’s low educational attainment rate makes it unattractive to prospective employers. It means that there are fewer well-educated workers available. This consigns those workers to low-skill, low-paying jobs. The State (and its cities) miss out on tax revenues from both employers and a well-compensated workforce.
Worse than not being able to attract new employers, Michigan cannot attract new industries. That makes it difficult for the state to diversify its economy. It also makes it difficult for our existing industries to remain here when other states offer a better overall environment.
Economic recovery begins with recruiting students
WCC’s primary focus should be on recruiting students, regardless of the status of the pandemic. Washtenaw County cannot afford to let the Class of 2025 sit out a year while they wait for things to get better. WCC has the opportunity to help students who passed on enrolling this fall get back on track. Offering shortened semesters, for example, may help students make up for lost time. Solid academic advising, smart combinations of co-requisite classes and generous financial aid can also entice students back into the classrooms.
But simply waiting for students to enroll is not an option. WCC must actively focus on recruiting students to create a pipeline of well-educated people who are prepared for the 21st century workforce. And WCC will need to sustain this effort for years. The Board of Trustees should not volunteer to waste one dollar on more administrators or ridiculous efforts to generate “other” revenues. The opportunity to generate real revenue is (and always has been) in recruiting students.
Photo Credit: UC Davis College of Engineering, via Flickr