We had our fourth snow day today of the semester as Snomaggedenpocolypse swept through the state. Well, it wasn't that bad but there were 10 heavy wet inches of snow at my house this morning. Of course when I was a kid back in Wisconsin in the olden days we would have never closed the school or even had a snow delay. We were of tougher stock, no doubt. It was only when we were walking back home the last two miles (of course against the wind and uphill!) that we might have noticed that it was -90 and that we had received four feet of snow in the past hour. Tougher stock indeed!
Yesterday we had our executive retreat to plan for the next year. As you might imagine, my heart wasn't fully in the meeting, but I did listen and contribute as I could. One bit of information pretty much explained my plight. Michigan as a whole is a demographic nightmare for community colleges with its falling population and that is even more evident in the rural area that Kirtland serves. It is the size of Connecticut yet only has about 60,000 people and that number is is getting smaller. And it is getting older--the average age is well above 35 which stretches the definition of college-age. Added to that is the strange inverse of the economy and enrollment that affects every community college. As the economy improves and people can find work (even at the $11 that is the average wage in this area) they don't go to college but take those jobs. When there are no jobs, people flock to the colleges for help. This truly must be one of the more ugly Faustian equations in enrollment planning. If only we had a huge awful recession when thousands would be out of work and suffering, our enrollment would be better! I hardly wish that--we did that and it wasn't that much fun.
As I said, it has affected all the state's community colleges but it hurts Michigan schools a bit more than other states. The state has no state-wide system to coordinate anything and I really struggle with that. Want a nursing program (or a composites or an automotive or or or...) that competes with your neighboring school? No problem--we wouldn't want to coordinate scarce resources or anything like that. Want to build a building? Let's have all 27 community colleges lobby the legislature independently. Want to coordinate classes so that we could promise the transfer of classes between two and four year colleges? You have to be kidding.
Look at the chart to see the result of all that. Declines of 30 percent or more are common, declines of only 15% are celebrated. It does explain why a college would want to shed a position as superfluous as an arts and science dean. And frankly, it isn't a good sign for the school or the "system" when that seems like a good thing. The loss of my position is but a very troubling symptom of much greater problems that many community colleges in Michigan face.
The photos are of winter--I took the same photos with my phone and they have been floating around. The quality of the iPhone photos are very good, but these are better. They should be, I hope, if the maxim of "you get what you pay for" is true. The gap, however, is narrowing. I am guessing that 95% of the viewing population can't tell the difference. That is a good thing, I think. One is from my iPhone--can you tell which one? Click on the photos to see the pictures larger.