Skyrocketing enrollment and an abundance of inexpensive Ann Arbor office space are among the factors prompting Washtenaw Community College officials to consider opening a downtown Ann Arbor campus.
For possible classrooms the administration had been contemplating up to 30,000 square feet in the lower level of a building on East Liberty owned by McKinley. Deans from the college visited the space recently, but on Tuesday WCC administrators decided to pull back from making a decision about that location, according to Stephen Gill, chair of the college’s board of trustees.
Instead, they’ll take the next six months to strategize, figuring out what their programatic needs might be, how much space they need and what kind of presence makes sense in Ann Arbor. WCC already offers satellite classes in Ypsilanti and Chelsea, but this would be the first time the 43-year-old institution would have a significant presence in downtown Ann Arbor.
The space available in the McKinley property – which until 1998 housed headquarters for the Borders Group bookstore chain – was being offered at a very good rate, Gill said. He declined to disclose the price, saying it would have depended on how much space they decided to lease, how much security they’d need and what kind of renovation would be required. Part of the space has been used this summer by entrepreneurs with TechArb – The Chronicle visited their subterranean digs in June.
But that location might not end up being the spot WCC chooses, Gill told The Chronicle on Tuesday. “The reality is there’s a lot of inexpensive space downtown.”
There are also a lot of current WCC students in Ann Arbor. A recent demographic study indicated that close to a thousand WCC students live within a mile of the McKinley building on East Liberty, Gill said. It was also attractive because of its visibility – with an entrance off of one of downtown’s major streets – and the fact that it’s on an AATA bus line. Those factors will remain important when selecting a site. The idea is to give students more options, Gill said.
Opening an Ann Arbor satellite would also help WCC’s main campus. The availability of parking and classroom space there is already tight, and will become even more so this fall as enrollment is expected to jump between 10-20%, Gill said. According to the college’s website, nearly 20,000 students take classes for credit, and roughly 8,000 enroll in non-credit courses through WCC’s LifeLong Learning program. Downtown Ann Arbor is being considered primarily as a location to offer for-credit classes.
Gill said that in addition to WCC’s reputation as an educational institution, the economic downturn has been a key factor in the college’s increased enrollment. Courses are less expensive than those offered at Eastern Michigan University or the University of Michigan, but credits from WCC can be transferred to those institutions. [Not including fees, WCC tuition is $73 per credit hour for in-district students, and $124 for out-of-district students. EMU charges $238 for Michigan residents and $701 for non-residents, while UM's per-credit-hour tuition varies widely depending on the course of study, with a minimum of $450 for in-state students and $1,419 for students from out of state.]
WCC has also seen a spike in enrollment from people looking to change careers, Gill said. including former auto industry employees who’ve been laid off over the past few years.
News of WCC as a potential tenant comes on the heels of another possible shift in the occupancy of downtown Ann Arbor real estate. On Monday, the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce announced plans to try to sublet all or part of its 6,300-square-foot third-floor office in the Glazier Building at the corner of Main and Huron streets – a building owned by Dahlmann Properties. John Hansen, the chamber’s interim president, said they have too much space for their needs and would ideally move into smaller, less-expensive offices.