Earlier this week, Swisher Commercial released the 2021 year-end vacancy report for commercial space in the Ann Arbor area. As you might imagine, there’s a lot of empty office space in most areas. According to the report, the Clark-Golfside Medical Area has a vacancy rate of 13.1%. This is an increase from 2020, when the vacancy rate in this area was 9.9%. The vacancy report reminded me of the WCC Master Plan, which was developed and released prior to the pandemic.
In one presentation to the Trustees, in a discussion of “mixed use development” the representative from Albert Kahn mentioned “hotel, office space, or student housing.” Interestingly enough, COVID-19 torpedoed all three of these markets simultaneously.
But reviewing the WCC Master Plan reveals something that should be of deep concern to any Washtenaw County taxpayer. Community colleges are facing an existential crisis. Students are abandoning community colleges in droves. Some states have experienced double-digit enrollment declines, and there is no end in sight.
This isn’t COVID-related. Community college enrollment has been in decline since the economy emerged from the Great Recession. The US workforce is at or near full employment, and many recent high school graduates do not see the upside of post-secondary education.
So, in this context, this is what the WCC Master Plan prioritizes:
- Updating the Student Center
- Collaboration Space
- Campus Front Door
- Campus Gateways
- Washtenaw Technical Middle College
- Food options
- Open Space Development
- Mixed Use Development
- Connection to the Community
WCC Master Plan is blind to its reality, community needs
Notice that there is nothing in the plan about developing new academic programs or boosting enrollment. Nothing acknowledges the urgency of WCC’s enrollment situation. None of the top ten priorities address the critical needs of the community.
While community college students struggle with food security, this administration suggests a dry cleaner for the Student Center Building. Students need academic training that will help them exit poverty, so the Administration plans an Art Walk on campus. The administration wants the WTMC students out of the front of campus, so it repurposes the childcare center, leaving student parents with no affordable childcare options.
This administration spent nearly a quarter of a million dollars on a Master Plan that doesn’t prepare WCC to address potentially the most serious enrollment crisis in its history. Where are the plans to modernize current academic programs and their corresponding facilities? Where are the new academic programs that meet this region’s changing employment needs? How does the community college plan to address the needs of low-income students that otherwise prevent them from enrolling?
The current Master Plan reflects the deep disconnection between the Administration, the Board of Trustees and the community.
Washtenaw County deserves better than this.
Photo Credit: MoneyBlogNewz , via Flickr