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What is the community college mission?

A newly released book, Pregnant Girl: A Story of Teen Motherhood, College and Creating a Better Future for Young Families, examines the difficulty that teen parents face on campus. Twenty percent of enrolled college students are also parents, and many of them enroll at community colleges. The book shines a light on the community college mission from a student’s perspective.

While a community college can be “friendlier” in terms of costs, time and resources, the road for these students is still nearly impossible. The author, Nicole Lynn Lewis, chronicles her experience as a single mother, while attending school at the College of William and Mary. Now the CEO of Generation Hope, Lewis has become a tireless advocate for student parents who are struggling to get ahead.

Not surprisingly, Lewis promotes the improvement of access to on-campus childcare – one of the biggest challenges student parents face. According to Lewis, student parents borrow more than one-third more than non-parent students do. They’re also 10 times less likely to finish a degree within five years. And most student parents start (or end) at a community college because they can better balance work and school there.

Access to affordable on-campus childcare is an essential support for these student-parents. Closing the WCC Children’s Center only makes studying or completing a program that much more difficult for these students on WCC’s campus. It also calls into question the WCC Trustees’ understanding and support of the community college mission.

Getting distracted from the community college mission

Clearly, the decision to close the Children’s Center was left to administrators who neither know or care how difficult drop-in child care is to find. They don’t mind taking care of one problem (WTMC) by creating another. And the ultimate solution to a problem is simply to throw money at it to make it all go away.

And for what? To close the main entrance to the campus? To make WCC’s Huron River Drive frontage more amenable to commercialization? The voters of Washtenaw County agreed to fund a community college and all that entails. We did not agree to fund ventures unrelated to the community college mission, like the Health and Fitness Center, a “convention center,” a hotel, or retail spaces in the campus parking lots. And we did not agree to forfeit WCC’s long-term access to this space for any reason.

Providing on-campus childcare for students is directly related to the community college mission. Building a hotel is not. Building and renting retail space on campus is not. Attempting to maintain a health club for non-students is not. Turning the campus upside-down in the summer for trade union training programs is not. Especially when the financial benefit to WCC of doing any of these things amounts to little more than spare change.

WCC has a serious mission – educating people in Washtenaw County – which is badly needed. Supporting people (including student parents) who are trying to improve their economic standing is part of that mission. Spending money and time on anything else detracts from the mission the voters established for WCC.

How and why have the Trustees become so lost on WCC’s mission that they eagerly sign off on this crap? It is time to hold them accountable for dissipating the County’s educational resources.

Photo Credit: Crazy_Zou