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Who funds development for occupational education programs?

I read an article yesterday about the investment that the National Science Foundation is making in technology training. To date, the NSF has provided about $15M in funding to enable community colleges to develop occupational education programs that complement and support the CHIPS and Science Act initiatives.

I’m all for that, but it raises a question. Why should a third party have to fund new curriculum development at a community college? Most businesses have their own research and development efforts. It’s what allows them to develop new products and services, expand the products they have, and remain current in their industries. It’s just part of the cost of doing business.

Why should community colleges (or universities) be any different? Shouldn’t they be devoting a part of their budget each and every year to the development of new academic programs? Isn’t that just a cost of doing [higher education] business?

I could see applying for funding to build or retrofit teaching spaces to accommodate these new programs. But then again, I could also see going to the voters to ask for bond money to pay for those updates, too. (I am apparently alone in that vision; the Washtenaw Community College Trustees can’t bear the thought of going to the voters to ask for a bond issue. In their minds, it is apparently inconceivable that Washtenaw County voters – who support public higher education so thoroughly and completely that they have already approved different FOUR millages for Washtenaw Community College – approve a bond issue for WCC.


It is inconceivable to me that among that $70M+ that we send to WCC every year, the administration cannot devote adequate funding to the development of new occupational education programs. I’m shocked that the $225,000 Master Plan contains no plan for educational facilities.

Occupational education programs require investment

Developing new occupational education programs should be a line item in the budget each and every year. Even reserving 1% of the annual budget for new occupational program development should enable WCC to produce high quality programs in emerging, high-wage, and high demand fields. Granted, it’s much easier and less expensive to shake the existing course catalog and see what falls out, but that approach may not produce the enrollment gains that Washtenaw County needs to remain a worker’s paradise.

What’s worse is that the Trustees never ask any cogent questions about the budget in their “budget hearings.” That’s why the budget is filled with other nonsense – like the $300,000 maintenance line item. ($0.25 per square foot is nowhere near the industry standard for facilities maintenance. Yet, that seems to be perfectly acceptable to the WCC Trustees.) WCC should be spending at least a million dollars a year on developing new occupational education programs.

After all, isn’t the coursework what drives enrollment?

Photo Credit: Keith , via Flickr