Who voters place on the Washtenaw Community College Board of Trustees is more important than ever. A perfect storm is forming around higher education, and some educational institutions will not survive it. Voters have an opportunity to select three individuals for open WCC Trustee seats. They are voting on the future of Washtenaw Community College.
At some point, the WCC Trustees walked away from their responsibility oversee the finances of the College. That has allowed the WCC administration to spend without the checks and balances that the system is supposed to have. Unfortunately, this has been going on for years. As a result, monies that the Administration should have spent on maintaining the infrastructure at WCC funded other things.
How WCC spends your tax dollars
Expanding the size of the administration. Today, WCC spends nearly 30% more on administrative overhead (in inflation-adjusted dollars) than it did in 2012. WCC operates with 10 Vice Presidents. Before you decide whether that’s good or bad, consider that the largest community college system (with 40 campuses and about 100,000 students) in the US has 13. WCC is not so large of complex that it needs nearly as many Vice Presidents as peer institution that is eight times its size.
A custom website the College threw away. The WCC Administration designed, developed and produced a replacement for the WCC website. The internal team completed the website in 2019. The Administration is unwilling to admit how much it cost. (It was in excess of $1.5M.) Just as the website was ready to go into production, the Administration outsourced the entire IT Department. The fully customized website that the taxpayers paid for never saw the light of day.
The Health and Fitness Center. This building is the “model” for a set of get-rich-quick schemes the Administration intends to pursue. The revenue generation projects include a hotel, a conference center, retail and office spaces. None of which have anything to do with education. The buildings are supposed to pay for themselves. The Health and Fitness Center, which has been in operation since 2007, hasn’t managed to do that, and the College still owes nearly $8M on the remaining bonds. The pandemic has blown a major – maybe unrecoverable – hole in the business model for the HFC. The College administration insists that it needs more money. What it really needs is a set of Trustees who prevent the Administration from making disastrous financial decisions like this.
There is no effective WCC Trustee oversight
Because of the property values in Washtenaw County, WCC will collect about $60M in property taxes this year alone. The Trustees are supposed to oversee that money, along with the tuition collection and state revenues. The WCC Trustee voting record tells you all you need to know about the level of oversight you’re getting. In the past six years, the Board has rejected exactly one motion. One.
That motion was brought by a WCC Trustee seeking a tuition freeze. The motion failed. That year, WCC collected nearly $8M more in revenues than it spent.
Every other item that has been placed in front of the Board has been approved, despite sometimes significant public and employee objection. The faculty’s vote-of-no-confidence, armed police officers on campus, the IT Department outsourcing and the approval of a $26M no-bid contract for IT services come to mind.
Your choices for WCC Trustee may determine whether WCC survives the coming decade (or not). Unrestrained spending and lax oversight have created a structural deficit at WCC. WCC is one of the best-funded community colleges in the State of Michigan, and yet, it is running out of money.
The colleges and universities that will survive the coming decade are those that are financially stable and secure. Right now, those terms don’t describe WCC. Instead of preparing the community college for the coming challenges, the WCC Trustees are freely authoring the expenditure of operating cash to pay for buildings the campus doesn’t need, and betting on high-risk revenue generation schemes.
Your choices for WCC Trustee matter now more than ever.
WCCWatch: Martin Thomas | WCCWatch: David DeVarti | WCCWatch: Christina Fleming | WCCWatch: Ruth Hatcher