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Washtenaw County students can’t afford tuition increases

Yesterday, I wrote about poverty in Washtenaw County and the decline in financial aid applications in Michigan. The decline was highest among minority and low-income students. By itself, this could have a long-term impact upon individuals who didn’t enroll. It could also have a long-term impact on the county. It may also destabilize the funding for WCC.

Nearly 1 in 4 Black Washtenaw County residents live in poverty, as do 20% of all Hispanic county residents. That’s a problem that our community college can and should tackle. But our community college administrators are more interested in building and running hotels and gyms than they are in performing the charter functions of the community college that Washtenaw County residents have invested billions of hard-earned dollars in over the last 55 years.

If that comes as a surprise, it shouldn’t. The residents of Washtenaw County are deeply invested in WCC, but the administration is not. Why should they be? The majority of WCC’s executives don’t even live in Washtenaw County. They come to work to spend our tax dollars, and then they go home at night.

And they make plans to acquire and spend even more funding intended for education for non-educational purposes. For its part, the Board of Trustees sits idly by, signing off on whatever the Administration puts in front of them.

The Board of Trustees plans to compound that by raising tuition – or fees – by 10%. It really doesn’t matter to the Administration what the money grab is called. The Administration plans to issue bonds to pay for the “Advanced Transportation Center” – which is really another events building. And it will issue even more bonds to pay for a substantial rehab of the Student Center Building.

Washtenaw County’s poverty problem isn’t going away

But here’s the real problem. The 20%-25% poverty rates among minorities in the county? Nearly 90% of Black college students take student loans to pay for their college coursework. Those planned increases in tuition will fall more heavily on Black students than on students of any other ethnic background. In essence, Black students will pay more for WCC’s bond debts than any other student demographic at the College.

Let me repeat that, just in case anyone is paying attention: Black students will pay more for WCC’s bond debts than any other student demographic at the College. .They are paying more for the debt on the Health and Fitness Center, and they will continue to pay more for the new bond issues.

That’s significant, and not only because the Trustees’ poor financial oversight of the College lands so heavily on Black students. It’s significant because Black students default on student loans at a higher rate than any other demographic group.

A community college education should give you enough economic leverage to increase your salary. But that’s not happening for Black students – who borrow more and make less than their white counterparts. It’s not happening for Black students who graduate less frequently and default more often on their student loans.

So, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that after watching this scenario play out year after year, Black (and other minority) students are choosing not to play the game anymore.

And the “tuition freezes” the Trustees have blindly signed off on are just window dressing. Massive, double-digit percentage increases are on the way for WCC students. They’re going to land hard on the poorest students, too. You can only hold tuition flat for so long, and “so long” is coming to an end.

Because someone’s got to pay for all this construction.

Photo Credit: COD Newsroom , via Flickr