Governor Pushes for ‘Free’ Community College, But Current Results are Abysmal

by | Feb 14, 2024 | News

By Jarrett Skorup

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is calling for “free” community college for all Michigan students. But this proposal is very unlikely to be worth the increased expense to taxpayers. Taxpayer funding for community college is already skyrocketing, but the number of students attending community colleges in Michigan has plummeted. At the same time, the number of those graduating or continuing to other schools is alarmingly low.

The answer from politicians and community college leaders? The same as always: more money.

The total student headcount has dropped from 481,360 in 2010 to 280,435 last year. The number of full-year equivalent students dropped from 177,277 to 97,057. That is a loss of over 40%.

But taxpayers are spending more than ever on community colleges. Schools get money from state taxpayers, from local property tax millages and from charges to students. Total state appropriations have gone from $300 million in 2010 to $358 million this year. Community college property tax revenue increased from $566 million to $652 million, Adjusted for inflation, the colleges have received a massive increase in per-student funding – from around $11,000 to $18,000 per student.

It would be one thing if taxpayers were seeing superior results for this spending. But it is hard to see that in the data.

For community college students, the state has what it calls a “success rate.” Success, in this case, means a community college student graduates or goes on to enroll at a four-year institution.

The success rate for community college students has been slightly increasing over the years. But it’s still at only 25% after two years, 41% after four years and less than 50% after six years. Despite the increase in spending per student, the trend in overall community college successes has been trending down for a decade (from 39,000 students to 25,000).

In government, there is almost always an assumption that spending more money will mean better results. Few politicians try to justify their proposals for increased spending by citing better outcomes. Before state lawmakers commit to spending for community college for everyone, they should analyze if the current system is delivering what they want.

Permission to reprint this blog post in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author (or authors) and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy are properly cited.

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