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WCC Administration should help students dodge for profit colleges

Yesterday, I wrote about the need for WCC to better recruit graduating high school seniors. One reason is that some recent high school graduates (most notably Black, Native American and Hispanic) are falling victim to marketing by for profit colleges.

For profit colleges are expensive and thinly regulated. Their credits are non-transferrable, and their degrees are most often worthless in the workplace. 90% of minority students who enroll there do not ever complete a degree program. Yet they draw students in at an alarming rate, often exhausting their federal financial aid eligibility in the process. The programs promise would-be students “scholarships” that are, in reality, high-interest student loans. In many cases, the “lender” is affiliated with the institution itself.

Given that there’s very little to recommend these schools, why do students find them to be so irresistible? Primarily, it’s the schools’ marketing campaigns that bring students to their doors.

So, a couple of things come to mind. First, if a marketing campaign can be that effective, WCC needs to do a much better job of marketing itself to prospective students. Second, the for-profit colleges advertise heavily on television, radio and search platforms like Google.

It’s almost like they believe that students are a necessary part of their business model. (Weird, I know.)

For profit colleges have proven that marketing campaigns can bring students in, even when times are tough. WCC’s enrollment is dropping at a time when it should be rising. That’s one indicator that WCC’s marketing campaign is not working very well. If it were, students should be flooding in.

For profit colleges will gladly take Washtenaw County’s high school graduates

It’s past time to retire the limp, 10-year-old marketing campaign WCC currently uses. What do you call someone who went to WCC? Employed. Here’s the thing: I don’t know of anyone who takes for-credit classes for the fun of it. Every student expects their degree to help them secure employment. Functionally, the WCC marketing campaign is saying, Hold my beer. (Unfortunately, WCC’s post-graduation employment statistics give this campaign a run for its money. Another reason it should be retired.)

The campaign is pretty uninspiring to an 18-year-old. Hey, kids! You can get a job after college! That’s the reason people go to college, isn’t it? Does that message even resonate with 18-year-olds?

Getting students in the door will require more than marketing, however. WCC needs to communicate the availability of federal financial aid, provide supports for new students, and help them determine a career path. Would-be students may be the first in their families to attend college. They may not know simple things, like the need to fill out the FAFSA; aid application deadlines, and how to register for classes. The difference between a grant and a loan may escape them. They may not know how to register for classes, how to find registration and counseling help. Or how to buy/lease textbooks. They may never have been on campus.

WCC can’t rely on public school districts to bring kids in

During normal years, the public school districts bring students in for a campus visit. That’s great, but the lesson here is that service has an upward impact on WCC’s enrollment. When it isn’t being done (as during COVID-19), enrollment suffers. To ensure that enrollment rises, WCC must duplicate the personalized attention that the same student would receive at a for-profit college. Is that expensive? Probably, but the taxpayers of Washtenaw County have supplied more than a quarter-billion dollars in funding to WCC in the last five years.

I have no doubt that somewhere in that quarter-billion dollars is enough money to tune up the marketing campaign and to reformulate the way WCC recruits prospective students. And I have great confidence that the vast array of well-paid executives that have joined WCC’s payroll in the last decade can make this happen. If there’s money to support 10 Vice Presidents, surely there’s enough money refresh and run a comprehensive marketing and outreach campaign.

It’s unfortunate that the futures of so many low-income residents in Washtenaw County depend on WCC administrators who would rather chase spare change from side hustles than do the work that’s right in front of them.

Photo Credit: Huang Chao, via Flickr