Critic of the McHenry County College 3% Annual 40-Year Enrollment Projections Says They Deserve an “F”

An open letter from Lakewood’s Stephen Willson:

An Open Letter to the MCC Board and the Community

The forty year plan, the need of which is based on an assumption of 3% growth per year.

Any substantial government capital project needs to pass a two-part, sequential test.

The first part of the test is,

“Has a need been established?”

If and only if the answer to this question is “Yes” should the second question be asked:

“Of all the alternatives, what is the most cost effective way to meet this need?”

MCC hired Wight & Co. to develop capital plans for a $280 million expansion.

The need for this expansion – the first part of the test above – was the projection that enrollment at MCC would grow 3% per year for the next forty years. Before tax dollars were spent to hire Wight & Co., what kind of study was undertaken to justify this 3% growth projection?

The answer is:


I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the college asking them for

“all documentation related to the 3% per year enrollment growth projection that underlies the plans drawn up by Wight & Co.”

For a project of this magnitude, I was expecting to receive a formal demographic study that would have included

  • analysis of college enrollment trends, including any special factors that might have led to a one-time jump in enrollment, detail of the age distribution of the student body,
  • an examination of population trends in McHenry County,
  • population projections for the nation, the state and the county by agencies such as the Census Bureau, and, if most of my students were younger people,
  • an examination of the trends in enrollment at area schools, including discussions with area school superintendents.

I did not receive such a document.

I received exactly three pages.

The first page is a six line statement from Wight & Co. stating the MCC Master Plan Steering Committee – NOT Wight & Co. – used “page 3 of the 2011 McHenry County Labor Report” and the enrollment statistics to project enrollment growth.

The second page is MCC’s enrollment history over the last ten years.

What the plan says McHenry County College should look like in 10-20 Years. Click to enlarge any image.

The third page is page 3 of the 2011 McHenry County Labor Report – which makes NO projections.

In short, no study was done to justify the projection that enrollment is so likely to grow by 3% per year for each of the next 40 years that a $280 million capital expansion is justified.

The numbers were pulled out of the air.

The college spent hundreds of thousands of dollars asking Wight & Co. for a plan it didn’t need, and then asks the taxpayers for $280 million more without doing its homework.

If the college were a student of mine in a statistics class, I’d give them an “F”.

Still, despite the lack of work by the College, it is possible that the College’s projection is accurate, so I asked myself, “What might the College have found if it had done its homework?”

The first question I asked myself was, “Has McHenry County’s population been growing 3% per year?”

To answer this question, I visited the Census Bureau’s web site and learned that the annual growth in population in McHenry County from 2000 to 2010 was 1.7%, NOT 3%!

Then I said to myself,

“Well, perhaps overall the population hasn’t grown at the rate MCC projects, but young people are MCC’s primary demographic.

“Has the number of young people been growing 3% per year in the last ten years?”

Cost estimate for the McHenry County College Campus over forty years, but not counting interest.

While the Census Bureau does not provide that level of detail by County, it does by state.

The number of young people 18 and under in Illinois FELL by 3.6% between 2000 and 2010.

Not conclusive, but it is highly unlikely that McHenry County so completely bucked the state trend, especially when overall population growth was only 1.7% per year in McHenry County.

Since the Census Bureau has not yet provided detailed age distribution data by County for 2010, I download historical enrollment data for all of the elementary and high schools in the entire county, which took me about 30 minutes.

What does this data show?


In fact, the number of 3rd graders – MCC’s freshmen in ten years – has fallen by 14% from the peak and today is 20% smaller than the number of high school seniors. So we know for a fact that the pool of potential students for MCC will be smaller in ten years than it is now.

Then I said to myself, “Does the Census Bureau project that population growth will increase or decrease?”

The answer is that the Census Bureau projects that here in Illinois the number of 18 to 24 year olds – MCC’s prime demographic – will DECREASE by 6.7% between 2010 and 2020 and decrease 3.3% over the next twenty years.

A 3% per year growth rate would imply an increase of 34% and 80%, respectively, over the next ten and twenty years.

Those are big differences!

I found it hard to believe that McHenry County might buck this trend, so I actually called the Superintendents of Districts 155 and 158, the largest districts in the County, to ask them what they were projecting.

Dr. Hawk of District 155 said they had a demographic study completed just a few months ago, and that the conclusion was that enrollment had plateaued and would decline over the next fifteen years.

I asked her if anyone from MCC had contacted her for information and she said no.

Dr. Burkey of District 158 said they expect high school enrollment to increase by about 500 over the next several years and
then to begin to decline because their elementary enrollment has already started to decline.

He also confirmed that no one from MCC had contacted him for information.

The MCC entrance below the library.

So, we have definitive data showing that the pool of potential students at MCC is highly likely to decrease, not increase, over the next ten to twenty years.

Has MCC itself bucked this trend?

The answer is no, MCC has come nowhere near 3% enrollment growth in the last several years.

In the last seven years, enrollment actually decreased in two years; in only two years did the increase exceed 3%.

In 2010, spring enrollment increased 27%, a one-time jump not likely to be repeated due to the introduction of the Promise Program.

In fact, according to a press release from MCC itself, enrollment actually declined by 4% in the most recent Fall semester versus the same semester in 2010.

Enrollment in Spring 2012 is 5.2% lower than in Spring 2011.

So MCC’s enrollment history does not support the projected enrollment growth, either.

Finally, let’s perform one simple test of reasonableness for the 3% growth projection.

The number of new students currently attending MCC about 33% of the number of high school seniors.

That doesn’t mean one-third of all high school seniors go to MCC because some new students will be older.

But it’s still a good benchmark; over time, there should be a strong correlation between the number of high school seniors and the number of new students at MCC.

If you combine what we know is happening to school enrollment in McHenry County with the 3% growth rate, and in ten years new enrollment would equal 50% of all high school seniors. In twenty years, 75%. In 30 years, 101%. In forty years, 125%.

In short,


In short and in conclusion, MCC’s growth projection is not only unsupported and contradicted by all the facts, it is, ultimately, ludicrous because it projects more enrollment growth than even the number of potential students.

It would be the only business in the Universe with more than a 100% market share.

I repeat what I said at the beginning. Any substantial government capital project needs to pass a two-part, sequential test, the first part of which is, “Has a need been established?”

The answer in this case is definitively, “No.”

In fact, the College did so little work and such sloppy work that as a professional researcher for 30+ years, if any employee of mine came to me with this justification for a $280 million capital plan, I would fire them.

This is not a statement I make happily or lightly, nor is it an exaggeration.

The work that preceded hiring Wight & Co. was not merely minimal, it was ludicrous on its face if any common sense had been applied.


Critic of the McHenry County College 3% Annual 40-Year Enrollment Projections Says They Deserve an “F” — 13 Comments

  1. It will be interesting to see MCC’s response.

    Irregardless here’s some other thoughts to consider.

    No doubt the State of IL would miraculously have a grant or matching funds to assist with the project that would have some sort of deadline thus creating a sense of urgency to stimulate the economy…ooooh we might lose out…

    Stephen Willson should show up at the next MCC Board meeting, make public comments, and submit his comments and this document to the Board as a public record.

    Build it and they will come…

    $280M is the principal.

    What is the estimated Interest, expressed as both an Annual Percentage Rate and total interest payments?

    Does MCC have a policy prohibiting the Board of Trustees from receiving campaign contributions and gifts from vendors?

    Does MCC have a policy prohibiting the Administration and employees from receiving gifts from vendors?

    What is the existing debt service at MCC (amount of principal and interest MCC owes for previous bond issues).

    Would the bonds be negotiated or competitively bid? (taxpayer wants negotiated)

    Would any existing debt be refinanced in conjunction with the project?

    Who profits from issuing $280M bonds? Bond Counsel (Attorney) fees, other attorney fees, consultant fees, Underwriter (investment banking firms that is responsible for marketing the bonds) discount or fees, rating agency fees, Financial Advisor, Insurance, etc.

    Who profits from the resulting construction project? Architects, Construction firms, Project Management, Attorneys, etc.

    Will union labor with prevailing wage scale be used. Prevailing wage means pay the premium wage.

    That’s a good start…

  2. I would give it a F- based on their 3% calculation.

    A study on NPR stated that from 2006 to 2012 60% of graduated do not even hold a full time job.

    They did not take into account whether those jobs were well paid jobs or just scraping by jobs.

    With so many kids graduating with $100k in debt and 60% not being able to get a full time job to pay that off student debt is the next bubble to take this country to a recession.

    People are not stupid!

  3. And silly me, I only thought the “If you build it, they will come” mantra was reserved for warm, fuzzy baseball movies….

  4. I would just add a few things to consider- this is a community college- which means there are non-traditional students as well- meaning adults not only high school seniors.

    Also- it is exactly the fact that students are graduating with a heavy debt burden that students are more likely to choose a community college to reduce the overall outlay of tuition.

    I am not saying the expansion is warranted- I have not looked at the plan closely enough- I just am saying- a community college serves multiple purposes- look at Harper or ECC- and has the potential to be a tremendous asset to the community.

    That being said, yes, the community should voice in to the discussion- express their concerns and wants.

    Trade school, skilled labor jobs- like welding, and drafting, computer skills, as well as the traditional liberal arts degrees all benefit our community.

    The answer is somewhere in the middle between no growth and Xanadu.

  5. “The answer is somewhere in the middle between no growth and Xanadu.”

    No, Inish, the answer is in reliable data, not numbers pulled out of their rears. Maybe with non-traditional students, enrollment will grow 3% per year. If true, awesome. But I’d like them to show their work for that figure before they get us on the hook for $280 million.

  6. Thank you for the excellent presentation and time spent to complete this analysis…

    Another consideration is the impact of on line education.

    This is and will be a considerable potential change in the educational outreach that reduces the need for a larger physical facility.

  7. Let’s say the above concerns are addressed.

    You still have the problem of how to minimize or prevent the problems encountered in the $5.7B LA Community College fiasco.

    Poor Planning, Frivolous Spending, Shoddy Work, Poor Oversight & Quality Control, Markups by Body Shops, Sports Facility Cost Overruns and Defective Work, Family Conflict of Interest, Green Energy Plan Impractical, and 2,400 Construction Defects in one facility alone.

    The LA Times series contains 6 parts, 30 pages, 495 comments, and an interactive map.

    Yet another case of Government Gone Wild.

    It was way to easy for government to pull the wool over the public’s eyes and mismanage taxpayer money.

  8. I don’t disagree that more data is necessary.

    I am just saying- it is a Community College which would benefit if the community increased their involvement in the planning

  9. $280M give or take x amt. of interest – seems to fall easily off the tongues of those who want to spend OTHER people’s money.

    Maybe it’s just a head game to see if anyone notices or, – you know – ask for $280M when you expect that will make it easier to get the public to agree to $174.99 M in a couple of years!

    If the analysis in this column is correct, everyone involved on the MCC side should find other work immediately.

  10. After finishing a whole host of classes from there working on a certification, most of the teachers act like they would rather not be there.

    So why with all of the technology today most all of these classes should be online and most online only.

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