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WCC college degree may equal high school diploma

Most college administrators who wring their hands and fret about the “enrollment cliff,” fail to grasp one key point. Generation Z high school students look at going to college as a business decision. If they can make more money by earning a college degree, they’ll go. If not, they won’t.

High school seniors are much better at recognizing risk when they see it. They question whether a college degree is worth the added expense and time. If the return isn’t there, the debts are too large, or the risk is too great, they’ll enter the workforce without one.

Generation Z watched what happened to the Millennials with college degrees in terms of educational debt and reduced earnings. They want to know what their other options are. Those observations aren’t wrong.

Among Michigan community colleges, in a 2019 analysis of earnings following college attendance, Third Way, a center-left think tank, found that fewer than 45% of people who started taking classes at WCC earned more than a high school graduate six years after they first enrolled. That placed WCC in the top quarter of community colleges in the state.

Eight years after first enrolling in classes, that number had risen to 50%. That placed Washtenaw Community College 11th (top half) among Michigan community colleges in terms of earnings.

Ten years after first enrolling, about 52% of former WCC students took in more salary than a high school graduate in the same cohort did. That’s 15th (bottom half) among Michigan community colleges.

WCC college degree needs better return on investment

Under these circumstances, it is hard for Generation Z to make the business case for enrolling at WCC. One reason for the steep decline in earnings (which is equivalent to educational depreciation) is the absurdly high volume of certificates that WCC churns out in any given year. Certificates are actually not degrees at all. The US Department of Education classifies them as sub-degree or non-degree credentials.

WCC’s minimalist approach to a college degree does very little for the community that spends so much on its operation. This is borne out by looking at the results of Michigan’s other two “certificate” community colleges, which have unfortunately adopted the same disastrous approach to post-secondary education. Mid-Michigan College and Montcalm Community College never actually crack the 50% mark, even 10 years after students start taking classes there.

For students who take classes from these “certificate schools,” getting a return on investment isn’t a sure thing. In fact, these schools have reduced it to a crapshoot.

For Washtenaw County residents this is (and should be) absolutely unacceptable. The return on a student’s investment in a WCC college degree should not be a 50-50 proposition. The return on the community’s investment in WCC should not be a 50-50 proposition either. As a community, we give WCC too damned much money to come up empty on every other student who takes classes there.

Here’s a question for WCC’s marketing department: “What do you call the one out of two students who went to WCC but don’t make more than a high school graduate?”

Here’s a better question: “Why isn’t the WCC Board of Trustees doing something about it?”

Photo Credit: Kevin Dooley , via Flickr