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WCC programs don’t support Washtenaw County

Yesterday, I wrote about the need to eliminate training programs that lead to low-wage jobs. Studies show these short-term, non-degree programs produce higher wages or more stable employment. Changing the strategy is especially important for Ypsilanti residents where the per capita income ($30,863) is 38% lower than the county per capita income ($49,568). In comparison to Washtenaw County, where 13.6% of residents live below the poverty line, 27.3% of Ypsilanti residents live in poverty. That’s double Washtenaw County’s poverty rate.

How many of Ypsilanti’s households are impoverished because they relied on one of WCC’s low-wage training programs to improve their employment outlook? Ypsilanti’s chronically high poverty rate isn’t going to improve until WCC eliminates its low-wage approach to workforce development.

The per capita hourly wage for Washtenaw County residents is about $24 per hour. The per capita hourly wage for Ypsilanti residents is about $15 per hour. WCC Trustees need to start monitoring the average hourly wage of short-term, non-degree training programs after completion. Is that rate closer to $15 (Ypsilanti – with its 27% poverty rate) or does that rate look closer to Washtenaw County, at $24 per hour? If these programs don’t produce wages of at least $24 per hour, they’re contributing to the county’s poverty rate, not its economic well-being.

So, we can say the same of WCC’s academic programs. If graduates aren’t bringing home a minimum of $25 per hour, they’re not making enough to live in Washtenaw County. When we lose our younger workers, the county suffers for years as a result. Worse, we’re not going to attract prime-age workers from other places, either.

Washtenaw County needs a functional community college

We need better performance from WCC, and we need better oversight from its trustees. Better performance from WCC means developing occupational education programs that prepare students for jobs that pay them well enough to be able to remain in Washtenaw County. Right now, that means WCC students need to be prepared well enough to take jobs that will pay them at least $50,000 per year.

It also means eliminating degree and non-degree programs that don’t allow graduates to earn a living wage. We cannot grow Washtenaw County by preserving educational programs that don’t allow people to earn enough to live and work in the same county.

Washtenaw County also needs strategies to draw new businesses and industries here. That means the county needs some capacity-building, which will allow it to attract new investments.

If the WCC administration is not capable of developing programs that fit that bill, the Trustees need to take action to correct that.

Photo Credit: Daniel X. O’Neil, via Flickr