The Washtenaw Community College Board of Trustees met for a two-day retreat at the Westin Book Cadillac Hotel in Detroit earlier this month, where they discussed the possibility of opening a satellite campus in Ann Arbor – possibly in partnership with the Ann Arbor District Library.
The retreat on March 5-6 covered a range of other topics, from the college’s projected drop in revenue and possible tuition increases to its shifting student demographics and a raft of facility renovations.
The Chronicle attended the first day of the retreat – the second day was held in closed session. The location – including an overnight stay at what the Book Cadillac website describes as an historic, luxury hotel – was intended to help focus trustees’ attention, according to board chair Stephen Gill. The cost of the retreat came to $9,910.70.
Satellite Campus in Ann Arbor Explored
To accommodate WCC’s growing student population, the board has been considering various options for satellite campuses, including the McKinley-owned building on East Liberty in downtown Ann Arbor, formerly known as Tally Hall. [See Chronicle coverage: "WCC Considers Ann Arbor Satellite Campus"]
At this month’s retreat, WCC president Larry Whitworth said McKinley initially offered to lease the 30,000-square-foot space to WCC for $30 per square foot. But Damon Flowers, WCC’s associate vice president of facilities development and operations, pointed out that to build an educational space out of it – including improving ventilation, putting in a false ceiling, installing computers and other requirements – would have cost considerably more.
Whitworth said that after negotiations, McKinley offered a price of $10.50 a square foot for a 10-year lease. McKinley also offered to pay for all of the necessary buildout.
“Obviously, this is an extremely good price,” Whitworth said.
But that location is not the only option the college is considering. After rejecting an offer from the University of Michigan to rent classroom space, Whitworth said WCC is considering partnering with the Ann Arbor District Library. The library board and administration are considering moving ahead with rebuilding their current downtown facilities. [Chronicle coverage: "Board Renews Library Building Discussion"]
“I thought to myself, if we were thinking about the future, working with the library makes all kinds of sense,” Whitworth told trustees. “[AADL director Josie Parker] thinks that joining forces makes it a much more doable project. We’ve got all the meeting rooms. We’ve got the conference center. We’ve got parking. The bus depot is coming in,” he said, referring to AATA’s plans to rebuild the Blake Transit Center, across the street from the library’s downtown building on South Fifth Avenue.
[Mentions of the parking and conference center refer to an underground parking structure being built by the Downtown Development Authority on the city-owned Library Lot, just north of the library's downtown building. The city also is reviewing proposals for possible development on top of the parking structure – including a possible hotel/conference center.]
Whitworth added that Parker believes AADL will likely move ahead on the library building project over the next year, including going to voters to ask for a millage to pay for construction. “Basically, it’s a 2.5- to 3-year proposition,” he said. “I think we could make do for 2 to 3 years. The synergy that comes about with the library is such a phenomenal connection.”
Before there was any further discussion of satellite campus options, trustee David Rutledge stated he was “very uncomfortable” with discussing the topic in a public setting. He moved that since it was an issue of purchasing real estate, the board should discuss it in closed session.
“We don’t know how our discussion would impact others,” Rutledge said.
The other trustees supported his motion, and agreed that the board would discuss the satellite campus options on the second day of the retreat, in closed session.
Budget and Financial Concerns
Earlier in the meeting, the board discussed a projected drop in revenue over the next five years or so. For the current fiscal year, the college is expected to generate a $1.5 million budget surplus. However, there might not be a surplus in coming years, due to a decrease in the college’s primary source of revenue: property taxes.
According to a WCC financial report presented to the board, there is a projected 7% to 8% decrease in property taxes for the next fiscal year, due to a drop in property values. That amounts to a funding decrease of about $3.5 million.
Property taxes account for 51% of WCC’s total revenue. At the board’s Feb. 23, 2010 meeting, trustees approved a revised fiscal 2009-10 budget, with $98,706,906 in total revenue. Property taxes account for $50,299,300 of that figure.
“I think we’re going to have to understand that over the next four or five years … it all depends on what kind of a college we want to have,” said WCC president Larry Whitworth, referring to the projected loss of revenue. “Do we want to cut or freeze employment, or do we want to raise tuition? We’re probably going to be talking about $8 to $10 a year for tuition increases [per credit hour].”
Whitworth said that a $10 increase in the cost per credit hour would generate $2.95 million annually. According to WCC’s website, the current cost per credit hour is $82 for distance learning courses, $80 for in-district students, $131 for out-of-district students and $174 for out of country or state. He and the trustees discussed how much to increase the credit-hour cost in order to balance the budget and avoid eating into the college’s fund balance. According to WCC’s financial report for the 2008-09 fiscal year, the college has a fund balance of $23,775,264.
“We do have to think seriously about how we move forward and start to consume some of our fund balance without consuming all of it, too quickly,” Whitworth said.
Pamela Horiszny, vice chair of the WCC board, said she felt a $5 increase would be enough to balance the budget. However, Whitworth said upping the credit-hour cost by only $5 would “come back to bite us next year.”
“Even at $10, we’re starting to consume all of these reserves that we have,” Whitworth said.
In talking with The Chronicle after the retreat, board chair Stephen Gill said that another budget concern is the state faculty pension – the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System (MPSERS) – that the college pays into each year. This past year that payment went up $3 million, for a total cost of about $8 million.
According to a financial report given to the board at their Feb. 23 meeting, WCC was notified by the State Fiscal Management Division that the MPSERS rate will increase from 16.94% of gross salaries to 19.41%. The report states that WCC anticipates the rate will increase 2% each year for the next few years. [A detailed explanation of how MPSERS works is included in a Chronicle report of a Feb. 17, 2010 Ann Arbor Public Schools board study session.]
“It’s costing us a lot of money,” Gill said. “That’s really hurting us.”
Student Demographic Data
Linda Blakey, WCC associate vice president of student services, presented demographic data on the college’s student population. Given the current state of the economy and the subsequent rise in people turning to school to prepare for a career change, WCC has seen a considerable rise in enrollment recently.
In the past year, enrollment has increased by about 4,000 students. There are currently 12,214 students enrolled for WCC’s winter 2010 semester. That’s an increase of 7.5% – 989 students – over the winter 2009 semester. There were 14,202 students enrolled for the fall 2009 semester – 10% (1,290 students) more than in fall 2008.
The increase in enrollment has led WCC to consider establishing a satellite campus to accommodate the increased enrollment, a topic which the trustees addressed later in the retreat [and reported in an earlier section of this article]. Blakey’s presentation noted that the college has seen the biggest increase in the 18- to 20-year-old age group.
Between the 2004-05 academic year and 2008-09, the number of 18- to 20-year-old males in WCC’s student population went up 2.4%. Female students in the same age group increased by 2.2%. Blakey said the raw numbers for all other age and gender groups – including men and women aged 21 to 24, 25 to 34, and 35 and up – have also increased. However, the percentage of the student population they account for has decreased in some instances, due to the 18- to 20-year-olds taking up such a large portion. For example, the proportion of new students who are males aged 25 to 34 has dropped by 1%.
“I just think it’s important to again point out in terms of raw numbers, all age groups are going up,” Blakey said. “The younger students are just taking up a larger percentage of the group.”
Blakey also presented data concerning the majors that new students are declaring upon enrollment. Between 2005 and 2009, the college has seen a significant drop in the number of 18- to 20-year-olds going into business and computer science, from nearly 700 students to just over 400. The number of business and computer science students also dropped for those aged 21 and up.
However, the number of students in the 18 to 20 age group going into health increased by over 200. There was also an increase in individuals studying math and science.
Blakey said the increased interest in math has resulted from more students enrolling with the intention to transfer as pre-med majors. WCC president Larry Whitworth noted that in general, the number of students who plan to transfer has gone up, particularly among the rapidly rising population of 18- to 20-year-olds.
“We surveyed students … about 70% of the students indicated that they planned to transfer,” Whitworth said. “The actual numbers are increasing pretty dramatically at this point.”
Trustee Pamela Horiszny commented that the downturn in the economy has resulted in recent high school graduates opting to attend community colleges instead of four-year universities in order to save money.
Data presented during the retreat about the percentage of high school seniors opting to attend WCC reinforced Horiszny’s statement. Graduates from Ypsilanti High School attend the college at a rate of 33.5%. WCC’s penetration rate is 36.6% for Manchester community schools, 22% for Milan, 14% for Chelsea and 20.6% for Brighton.
“We’re certainly attracting more recent high school graduates,” Whitworth said. “We have one of the only strong vocational technical programs at a community college anywhere. We have a reputation as a good academic school. That old stigma that used to be associated with a community college just isn’t in place anymore in the minds of most students and their families.”
The board went on to examine data concerning the student population’s geographic distribution. Between 2,500 and 2,699 students live in the 48197 zip code region in Ypsilanti. Between 1,500 and 1,699 students live in the 48198 area in Ypsilanti. Overall, Ann Arbor zip codes 48103, 48108 and 48105 account for 22.5% of the student population for the fall and winter semesters from 2008 to 2010, compared to 29.2% for the two Ypsilanti zip codes.
The student population isn’t as concentrated west of Ypsilanti. Some of the trustees questioned whether there are actually 1,000 students living within a mile of downtown Ann Arbor, a statistic that has previously been used to bolster the college’s consideration of establishing a satellite campus in that location. Whitworth confirmed that the number is correct.
“Downtown Ann Arbor is still the central hub,” Whitworth said. “We’re already serving the Ypsilanti populations that we’re looking at here. The current campus basically serves that population. Once you get on the other side of Ann Arbor, it’s so sparse that you don’t get any concentrations. Ann Arbor then becomes the next concentration point.”
WCC trustee Richard Landau – considering an “If you build it, they will come” theory – proposed that the student population might be concentrated in Ypsilanti simply because of the college’s location.
“Is the reason that we draw so much from Ypsilanti that we’re effectively in Ypsilanti?” Landau asked. “If you had a campus in the 48103 zip code, would you see those numbers go up significantly?”
The board also discussed how the age distribution of the population that the college serves may change in coming years. The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) predicts that Ann Arbor Public Schools will see an 8% decrease in residents aged 5 to 17, a 19.1% decrease for 18- to 34-year-olds, and a 189.3% increase for those 65 and older between now and 2035.
The trustees noted this is significant to the college because the senior vote factors considerably into passing millages to generate funding. They discussed a possible explosion in continuing education classes. Whitworth joked that WCC might start offering courses in euchre and square dancing for the older population.
“It’s going to be very, very different as we move forward,” Whitworth said.
David Rutledge, the board’s treasurer, brought up another trend: the shift in jobs away from manufacturing and the growing number of people returning to school for retraining.
Whitworth referenced Dan Pink, an author who has written several books on the changing world of work. He said Pink warns that everything routine is going away.
“The whole nature of the work is going to change pretty dramatically,” Whitworth said. “As we look to the future, it’s going to be those individuals that bring creativity, innovation to the workplace that are going to be successful.”
In order for WCC students to succeed in this changing work environment, Whitworth said the college should consider whether they need to change their academic requirements.
Five-Year Facilities Plan, Parking Project
Damon Flowers, WCC’s associate vice president of facilities development and operations, presented a capital projects and construction plan for the fiscal years 2009-10 through 2013-14. The total for the capital projects budget for the next five fiscal years is $20,172,900.
Improving the OE Building
The plan includes numerous renovations for the Occupational Education Building. By July 2011, the college aims to replace existing air-handling equipment and the pneumatic temperature control system. The plan also includes replacing the OE Building’s roof, which is over 20 years old. Other replacements include the electrical system and switchgear. All of this construction will cost an estimated $13.5 million.
The Student Center
The facilities plan also includes improvements for the college’s Student Center Building. The proposed renovations include replacing galvanized domestic water pipes ($250,000), reconfiguring the loading dock ($200,000), and renovating the first-floor dining areas ($1,007,100) by 2011. WCC president Larry Whitworth commented that improving the Student Center’s condition is an important project.
“We have to redo the first floor of the Student Center,” Whitworth said. “It’s worn out – it’s starting to look bad. We’ve got to look at those reserves that we’ve been putting aside to do these kinds of things. This is, of course, extremely important for long-term financial health because this is how we bring people to the campus.”
Morris J. Lawrence Building
The Morris J. Lawrence Building – which Whitworth called the college’s “front door” because of the many public events that are held there – is up for a proposed storage addition and a new entrance that goes directly into the Towsley Auditorium. Currently, people have to pass through the building’s lobby on their way to the auditorium. The renovations would be complete in 2011 and cost $580,800.
Family Education Building
The facilities plan includes replacing the mechanical systems equipment, upgrading electrical systems and fire alarms, improving the public restrooms, and replacing the outdoor playscapes for the Family Education Building. The project would cost a total of $200,000, with an estimated completion date of summer 2010.
Skilled Trades Annex
Flowers told trustees that the proposed facilities plan includes renovating the 7,500-square-foot skilled trades annex, including classrooms, a residential construction woodworking shop and the faculty offices. The building would also be set up to use geothermal energy for heating and cooling as well as for hot water. The renovations – with a 2011 completion date – will cost an estimated $1.3 million.
The facilities plan also calls for a $50,000 heating pump retrofit, which “provides for the automation and storage of water, which would then be mechanically cooled and recycled back into the central plant heating pumps for reuse.” This would allow the college to use less water.
The plan also includes a $1.15 million thermal storage chilled water upgrade, to be completed in 2012. According to Flowers, the upgrade would provide backup for the college’s existing cooling system, in case one of their existing chillers breaks.
“Things do go wrong,” Flowers said. “We really can’t cool the campus with one chiller. We lose one, and we’re in trouble.”
The facilities plan also suggests replacing the failing valves in the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning tunnel system on campus. This project would be completed in 2012 and cost $40,000. Additionally, the plan calls for repairing eroded asphalt on the campus’ perimeter roads, a $180,000 project to be completed by the summer of 2014.
Parking Structure Project
Flowers also presented information on the parking structure WCC plans to build. He estimated that with approximately 655 spaces at $17,500 a space, the construction alone would cost $11,462,500. Additional costs would bring the subtotal for the project to $14,612,500. Flowers said after the retreat that the grand total for the project is still “up in the air.” Right now, it would probably come to around $15.5 million. “Most of the administration wants to get it to $12 million,” Flowers said. The total budget for the project will be presented to the board in April.
Three-Year Internet Technology plan
Amin Ladha, WCC’s chief information officer, discussed the college’s technology plan for the next several years. Ladha’s goals for WCC’s IT department include establishing streaming video services for distance learning, marketing and other academic purposes; looking into “cloud computing,” the use of leased storage space; a wireless network upgrade; a Microsoft Office 2010 upgrade; and enacting disk-to-disk backups for improved data restoration following disasters.
Ladha also spoke to the board about future trends in technology, such as the increasing popularity of mobile devices. For example, Ladha said the college could make it possible for students to access the online student directory or look up their grades and coursework on the WCC academic site – called Blackboard – using their iPhones.
Ladha said he believes Apple’s new iPad will prove popular among WCC students, and the college’s IT division should look into ways that these devices can be incorporated into academics. The trustees discussed the possibility of students purchasing their textbooks electronically and reading them as ebooks on mobile devices.
“I think it’s absolutely coming,” trustee Richard Landau said of electronic textbooks. “It’s just a factor of the devices themselves right now costing $400 to $500 apiece. You’re going to have to see these devices come down to $150 dollars apiece, and then it’s going to explode.”
Ladha said there is already a class at WCC that uses ebooks and the Kindle, an electronic reader from Amazon.com. “There are instructors who will start doing it,” Ladha said. “There is already an example. I see the trend coming.”
Linda Blakey, WCC associate vice president of student services, and Phyllis Grzegorczyk, interim vice president of instruction, informed the board about changes in the college’s general education requirements, as well as the addition of some new programs.
The change in the general education requirements involves a change in the language of the college’s requirements. Previously, WCC’s general education requirements stated:
Students entering degree programs in Fall 2001 and thereafter also will need to demonstrate computer and information literacy … by competency testing or completion of course work as a degree graduation requirement.
The new language reads:
Students enrolling in associate’s degree programs in Fall 2010 and thereafter will need to meet general education area VIII, Computer and Information Literacy, by completing the specified courses.
Grzegorczyk said instructors’ complaints about their students’ lack of computer skills inspired the change. Previously, she said students would put off fulfilling the computer literacy requirement until they were almost finished with their program. Now, they will be strongly advised to fulfill the requirement before taking the majority of their courses – although completing the computer literacy course work before taking other classes will not be required.
Blakey added that they plan on evaluating departments and instructional areas. If computer skills are absolutely necessary for a particular class, they will make the computer literacy course a prerequisite or concurrent prerequisite. She said many instructors use the college’s Blackboard site to post grades and assignments, and many require their students to use Microsoft Word and other basic software.
“If students don’t have the computer skills, they just have a really difficult time,” Blakey said.
Although the option of competency testing has been eliminated, students still have the option of meeting the computer literacy requirement through “credit by exam,” the equivalent to taking the final exam for the course. Blakey noted that many students think they have adequate computer skills, but they might only know how to update their Facebook status and be clueless about creating an Excel spreadsheet.
“You’d be surprised,” Blakey said. “Even though people have computer skills, they have holes in those computer skills.”
Grzegorczyk said competency testing was eliminated due to the excessive expense and human resources that would be needed to test everyone who thinks they can use a computer well enough to bypass the requirement. WCC president Larry Whitworth agreed, saying that everyone would try to take the competency test, and that would be implausible, given the growing number of incoming students.
“If you just had a competency exam, you would be testing 4,000 people,” Whitworth said. “They’d all go, ‘Well, I can use a computer.’ This is beyond what most of them think.”
In addition to the altered general education requirements, the college is adding an environmental science program. Its requirements will consist of existing courses and two new environmental science courses that are currently in development.
There will also be a new commercial building facility maintenance program. This area of study was specifically designed for University of Michigan maintenance mechanics; UM is supporting the program’s development. No one else will be allowed to enroll initially, but others might be allowed to enroll in the future.
Finally, WCC will introduce a new nursing transfer program designed to prepare students to enter Eastern Michigan University’s nursing program as juniors after they graduate from WCC. The college hopes to start offering this program next fall.
“This is very similar to the nursing transfer to UM that we did about 15 years ago,” Grzegorczyk said. “This is probably the best-kept secret in the county because the admission to UM and EMU has a specific number of slots for our students to move directly into.”
A Coda on the Retreat’s Location: Why Detroit?
Following the retreat, The Chronicle inquired into the choice of the Westin Book Cadillac hotel for the location of the two-day meeting, which included an overnight stay. Stephen Gill, chair of the WCC board of trustees, said they chose to have the retreat in Detroit in order to keep the trustees focused.
“We’ve had experience having the retreat in Ann Arbor, but people are just too distracted by other things,” Gill said. “By having it out of town, far enough away, you commit the time to that two-day retreat. We get everybody’s full attention.”
Gill added that the trustees wanted to get away, but still stay in Michigan. “We liked the idea of being in Detroit because it helps the economy in Southeast Michigan,” he said.
The Chronicle submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to find out the cost of the retreat. The board paid $5,887.43 in hotel charges, including individual guest charges, catering and Internet charges. The board also had dinner at the Westin Book Cadillac’s 24grille, which cost $4,023.87. The total cost for the retreat, including the hotel charges and dinner, was $9,910.70. [.pdf file of receipts from Westin Book Cadillac, in response to a FOIA request]
Present: Board of Trustees: chair Stephen Gill, vice chair Pamela Horiszny, secretary Anne Williams, treasurer David Rutledge, trustees Mark Freeman, Diana McKnight-Morton and Richard Landau. Administration: WCC president Larry Whitworth, executive assistant to the board Mary Faulkner, associate vice president of student services Linda Blakey, associate vice president of facilities development and operations Damon Flowers, interim vice president of instruction Phyllis Grzegorczyk, and chief information officer Amin Ladha. Several other administrators also participated in the retreat.
The WCC Board of Trustees meets on the second and last Tuesdays of each month at 4 p.m. The next regular meeting will be on March 23 in the Board of Trustees meeting room on the second floor of the Student Center Building. For more information, visit the board’s web page.