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WCC administration may waste investment in education

The WCC administration loves to remind the Board that WCC has one of the in-district lowest tuition-and-fee structure in Michigan. That’s true, but as is always the case with the WCC Administration, it’s not the whole story.

Over the past two decades, tuition at the average community college has increased by 46%. In comparison, undergraduate tuition at the average public university has risen by 76%. In the past two decades, WCC’s tuition has increased by 79%. (And that’s having held in-district tuition constant for the past four years.) Had WCC’s tuition rates reflected the “average” increase, WCC’s in-district tuition rate would be about $77 per credit hour.

Between 2006 and 2011 alone, WCC’s tuition increased by nearly one-third. (That the WCC administration built the Health and Fitness Center during this time is purely coincidental. They also completed the TI renovation, and built two utility buildings.)

I digress. One of the reasons the Biden administration is promoting federal funding for community college tuition is its relatively low cost. But WCC’s cost increases reflect much more than the cost of educating students. Rises in student tuition costs at WCC track closely with construction on campus. When buildings go up, tuition goes up with them.

This is reflected in the overall cost-per-credit hour that the WCC administration has reported to the federal information clearinghouse. In 2007-08, WCC spent $36.3M on 245,500 hours of instruction at a cost of $148 per credit hour. In 2010-11, WCC spent $55M on 296,000 hours of instruction, at a cost of $186 per hour.

WCC administration shops cost increases off on students

In 2011-12, instructional budget dropped to $54M for 265,500 hours of instruction at a cost of $203 per credit hour. In the space of one fiscal year, the cost of instruction rose more than 9%. On the surface, spending more on instruction sounds good, but salaries and benefits make up the majority of instructional costs. “Spending more on instruction” just means that personnel costs rose. By 2018-19, WCC was spending $60.7M on instruction for 242,000 hours, at a cost of $251 per credit hour. During this period, WCC added the skilled trades building, the parking structure and three utility buildings.

Washtenaw County taxpayers are very generous with requests for educational support. They would happily support construction and rehabilitation costs for campus infrastructure. (Even despite years of neglect of the existing facilities by the WCC administration.) There is literally no need to place this extraordinary burden on the backs of the students. Voters would not, however, support a WCC administration request for taxpayer funding for a convention center, a hotel, campus retail space or anything else not directly related to the mission of the College.

Which may be why the WCC administration will never ask the taxpayers to commit additional resources to their foolhardy “master plan.” Instead, they will use the resources the taxpayers authorized for instruction. In doing so, they will prevent Washtenaw County taxpayers and students from maximizing the investment in education that the federal government is preparing to make.

Photo Credit: Kate Sumbler, via Flickr