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WCC must make its community college degrees worth more

Here are two facts that illustrate the long-term damage caused by failing to economically differentiate community college degrees from high school diplomas. First, women comprise 60% of community college enrollment. Second, the pay gap between genders in Michigan (according to the US Census Bureau) is currently 22%.

Currently, TIAA-CREF has an interesting commercial that neatly sums up the problem.

Lower lifetime earnings mean lower lifetime retirement savings. Adding pressure to women’s retirement savings is the fact that in the US currently, their life expectancy is 5.7 years longer than men’s. In short, 30% less retirement savings must last 57% longer.

It’s not hard to see why colleges and universities are stuffed to the gills with women, and why it is urgent that college administrators ACT to increase the earning potential of community college degrees. Continuing to promote degree and non-degree certificate programs that can generate only sub-par wages is a dereliction of the duties given to the community college.

And for single parents, nothing says, “You’re not welcome here!” like closing the campus childcare center. Single parents are the students who most need affordable, high quality childcare. Closing the campus daycare because it was the most expedient action the administration could take in service of a misguided master plan has extinguished an unknowable number of single parents’ plans to escape poverty.

While WCC executives perceive Washtenaw County as “rich,” those of us who live here perceive it as “expensive.” In fact, Ann Arbor boasts Michigan’s highest cost of living. As such, the WCC administration has a responsibility to create community college degrees that enable Washtenaw County residents to remain Washtenaw County residents.

Low-value community college degrees don’t help Washtenaw County women

The administration must do better than turning up $12/hour training programs that allow people to work here but live elsewhere. It must widen the gap between the earning potential of high school diplomas and community college degrees. Currently, 30% of high school graduates earn more than 50% of community college graduates. That can’t continue to happen.

And those most affected are the women who make up 60% of the enrollment. Associate degrees with low earning potential contribute to lower lifetime earnings for women, lower retirement savings and an overall lower quality of life for female residents of Washtenaw County.

Don’t get me wrong. It is truly heartwarming that our elected Board of Trustees has tirelessly dedicated itself to raising the salary of one woman at WCC, who already brings home about $400,000 in total compensation. (And it’s wonderful to know that they’ve raised her salary by more than 15% in the last three years, while limiting the increase in staff salaries to just over 6%.)

But it sure would be nice if the Trustees required the WCC Administration to dedicate that same level of effort to raising the salaries of all WCC alumnae.

Photo Credit: frankieleon, via Flickr