Head of McHenry County College Board Replies to Steven Willson’s Critique, Willson Replies

Here is the reply of Mary Miller, who chairs the MCC Board, to Stephen Willson’s critique of the Wight & Company’s expansion and remodeling proposal

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

I figure will cost in the neighborhood of $1 billion in today’s money once interest is included.  (I have separated sentences in various paragraphs to make it easier to read on a screen.  In addition, I have re-formatted portions to make it easier to read.)

May 11, 2012

RE: [Steven Willson’s] Open Letter to MCC Board of Trustees and Community

MCC Board Chairwoman Mary Miller

After reading Mr. Willson’s open letter, as Chairperson of the Board of Trustees for McHenry County College, I was compelled to respond to some of his allegations and inaccuracies.

The community college mission is to provide access to higher education to all who seek it, as well as to support economic development through education and training opportunities. As the organization that serves the educational needs of the entire county, McHenry County College (MCC) strives toward the utmost accountability to its

  • students,
  • community members and
  • taxpayers.

Throughout the process of data gathering that contributed to the proposed Facility Master Plan, the College solicited feedback from all of these stakeholder groups through

  • forums,
  • focus groups and
  • market research,

well as looked at future

  • academic trends and
  • needs the county has,

so that we may stay in line with workforce needs for the future.

MCC President Vicky Smith

The Facility Master Plan also reflects opportunities for the College to connect with residents throughout the county who have yet to take advantage of its educational opportunities, and how we might engage them in the future.

After all, as the college that serves the entire community, it is critical that we look at how we can serve all educational groups more often and with more support

  • (traditional credit students,
  • adult students,
  • training and workforce development students,
  • continuing and professional education students, and
  • community event participants).

The College entered into the planning process due to the space constraints within the existing buildings and programs.

Currently, MCC is 100,000 gross square feet short for our students, our course offerings, and desired classroom space.

The below summary clarifies some of the most significant inaccuracies that Mr. Willson cited in his letter.

According to the Fall 2011 McHenry County Labor Report, the average yearly growth in the county over the past 21 years has been 3.6%.

The enrollment growth average for the College over the past ten fiscal years has been 4%.

Both of these data documents were used to establish enrollment growth projections within the Facility Master Plan.

Nationwide, the emphasis on community education is steadily growing.

In 2009, President Obama created a focus on community colleges, launching the White House’s first-ever community college summit.

This initiative stressed that through expanded learning opportunities, training and availability of higher education,

“Americans will learn the skills and knowledge necessary to compete for the jobs of the future.”

The president set expectations for community colleges to graduate an additional five million students by 2020.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, eight of the ten fastest-growing careers do not require a bachelor’s degree.

By 2018, 60% of the jobs in the country will require some level of postsecondary education below a bachelor’s degree.

The estimated growth of the College over the coming years may also be attributed to new and existing program development.

MCC 40-Year Plan. Click to enlarge.

New programs at MCC that reflect the needs of our community will include:

  • robotics,
  • respiratory therapy,
  • physical therapy assistant,
  • health information technology,
  • manufacturing and
  • veterinary technician.

Many of these programs will have general education requirements, as well as high-tech and/or laboratory space requirements, creating additional program and space implications.

Such growth would also come in the form of new weekend programming to serve our adult learner population, including advanced manufacturing/skilled training programs,

  • nursing,
  • business, and
  • information technology programs.

The emergence of new programs in these and other high-demand areas will attract more adult learners and allow the College to better support industries within the county.

MCC’s educational programs are rapidly changing to meet the needs of today’s students, ranging from traditional full time,

  • part-time working,
  • returning degree-seeking adults,
  • four-year transfer students, and
  • online students.

The College continually analyzes curricula and surveys students to ensure the right mix of courses, certificates and degrees are offered.

This speaks to the mission of the community college—to provide more opportunities for every citizen to achieve a higher education, which is at the core of a thriving community.

McHenry County College is always open to hearing all residents’ views and ideas.

Mary R. Miller
Chair, Board of Trustees

First let me note that Stephen Willson got more of a reply than I ever have by asking questions in person at board meetings.  I haven’t checked lately, but the last time I did, the questions asked were not even included in the minutes.  (I have reformatted Willson’s reply as well.)

Here is Willson’s reply, which, I expect, will elicit another reply.

Subject: RE: Response to An Open Letter to the MCC Board
Date: Fri, 11 May 2012 10:01:06 -0500

Dear Ms. Miller:

I’m so glad you responded.  This gives us the opportunity to have a real dialogue.  Let’s consider each issue, shall we?

The first paragraph speaks to the College’s mission.  I agree with your mission and concede the point.

Please explain how your mission affects population projections.

Your second paragraph speaks to the purpose of the Master Plan and asserts without evidence that the College is 100,000 square feet short of the space it needs.

I have no quibble with the first part of your paragraph, but I see no evidence to support your assertion about space being short.

I have visited the college on many occasions during normal school hours, and I would say that, on average, 33% of the classrooms that I pass are empty.

Please produce figures showing the percentage of time that the classroom space you have is utilized.

Paragraphs 3 and 4 are where you say you will address my inaccuracies.

You address exactly one point, population growth in McHenry County since 1990.  Allow me to speak to your points.

First of all, the Fall 2011 McHenry County Labor Report says population grew 74.7% over 20 years, not 21.  Further, if you do the math, that translate into an annual rate of increase of 2.83%, not 3.6%  [(1.028^20)-1=74.7%].

Second, even this figure is wrong.  According to the Census Bureau, the population of McHenry County was 183,241 in 1990 and 308,760 in 2010.  That translates into annual growth of 2.64%.

Third, more recent growth is more relevant than older growth.  The growth rate from 2000 to 2010 was only 1.73% per year.

Fourth, the number of young people in school — the future students at MCC — is declining.  As I stated, the number of 3rd graders is declining at every single school district in the County, at most for several years, and right now equals only 80% of the number of high school seniors.  Where will future students come from if the number of high school seniors declines over the next ten years?

Summary of MCC baseball stadium proposal assumptions by Economic Research Associates, the college's outside consultants.

In short, you provide one inaccurate piece of evidence to support your position and responded to none of my other points about population growth in McHenry County and especially to projected changes in population in the 18-24 year old age cohort.

As I point out, the number of new students your growth rate implies means that you would have to capture an increasing percentage of the graduating high school seniors, eventually exceeding 100%.

The math is indisputable.

The number of new students enrolling at the college now is equal to about 33% of the graduating high school seniors in McHenry County, but a 3% growth rate forces this capture rate up to 50% in 10 years, 75% in 20 years, and more than 100% in 30 years.

How in the world can the college grow by that much?

In the same paragraph you mention the growth rate in enrollment at the college, but fail to point out that the college has exceeded a 3% growth rate in only two of the last seven years, that one of these was a one-time jump due to the Promise program, and that in the last two semesters, your enrollment has declined 4% and 5% respectively.

You can pick your starting point carefully to make your case, but the choice of the starting point must be justified.

The baseball stadium was supposed to subsidize the construction of rooms for a nursing program.

If there is some sort of formal demographic study that underlies the 3% growth projection, please produce it and explain why it was not sent to me in response to my FOIA request.

Also, the papers I was sent include a reference to the MCC Master Plan Steering Committee, but the response to my FOIA request included zero information on this committee, such as membership, meeting minutes, reports, etc.

Now either there is no committee or the College failed to provide an appropriate response to my FOIA request.

As you answer this question, please also explain why Joseph Baumann, your own Director of Institutional Research, was not a part of this committee and was only minimally involved and did not actually participate in generating the 3% projection.

Your remaining paragraphs speak to the College’s hopes for the future.

I wish you well with this.

I think community colleges play an important role in our society, providing a cheap way for kids to get their first two years of college if they are going for a bachelor’s degree, providing technical and occupational training for those who do not plan to attend a four year college, and providing some fun classes, too.

The issue is not whether MCC is a worthy institution, but only whether it needs an additional $280 million.

I look forward to further discussion on these points.  It is through this kind of public debate that the public has the opportunity to make an informed decision.

Sincerely yours,

Stephen Willson


Head of McHenry County College Board Replies to Steven Willson’s Critique, Willson Replies — 7 Comments

  1. To the Trustees of MCC

    I am a college graduate, in fact I have a law degree.

    God bless my parents, they paid for my 4 years of private high school and 2 years of college.

    They had not gone to college.

    I paid for 3 years of college and 3 years of law school (with the help of scholarships for which the government paid zero).

    When will you learn that it is not up to government to pay for the education of its subjects.

    I object to your continued expenditures without adequate contribution from your students.

    Everyone is not entitled to an education at the taxpayers expense.

  2. ANYONE who claims they are “doing it for the community” are acting in a manner that is the direct opposite.

    Beware of that term: “Doing it for the Community”

    English translation: “I will use public funds to achieve a personal goal or desire.”

  3. Jim, thank you.

    I came up much the same way.

    Worked the same for my kids.

    This is where one learns that the “ownership” of your achievements makes for strong individuals.

    Employers often marveled at my kids work ethics.

    They were getting call backs everywhere they worked wanting to know when they would be home for the summer.

    When are their breaks and would they work during them.

    They are all doing very well.

    It is called building character.

    Skeptic – RIGHT ON!!

  4. I agree with everyone above. JIM…you are spot on.

    My parents did not posses the financial wherewithal to fund my education.

    I too worked, raised a family and went to college on my dime.

    Through determination I earned my AAS and then my BA. I nearly earned an MPA.

    I did not have a High School GPA earning scholarships.

    I fit the mold for a blue collar existence.

    Junior College granted me the ability to earn my education but I earned it and did not squander the opportunity.

    The free government provided college program for all, only promotes more years of sloth and aimless waste.

    Many use MCC as an extension of High School.

    If you have the desire there are opportunities, but we have evolved into a ‘giveme” society.

    Government owes it to me, give it to me.

  5. RE: Investigation of county growth number – not 3.6% actually 1.73%

    This topic has intrigued me so I did some simple investigation. It seems to me that the meat of this problem rest in the main question over the “3%” or “3.6%” growth statement.

    Mary R. Miller’s response:

    “According to the “Fall 2011 McHenry County Labor Report”, the average yearly growth in the county over the past 21 years has been 3.6%.

    The enrollment growth average for the College over the past ten fiscal years has been 4%. Both of these data documents were used to establish enrollment growth projections within the Facility Master Plan. ”

    Why does Mary Miller use a 21 year span for population growth but then only uses 10 years for enrollment growth?

    Let’s equalize this to the past 10 years statistics on population growth.

    I scoured over the “Fall 2011 McHenry County Labor Report” http://www.co.mchenry.il.us/departments/workforceinvestmentboard/pdfDocs/CountyReportFinalFall2011.pdf and could not find the infamous “3.6%” population growth number she refers to.

    Take the document yourself and do a word search for 3.6%.

    Can’t find it! So I went to the report’s “Resources” section, under the “United States Census Bureau” http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/index.html, which took me to our county’s population numbers at this link: http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/17/17111.html .

    I figure that the United States Census Bureau is probably one of the best places to get population figures.

    (notice that I give you references that you can actually get my numbers)

    Population McHenry County growth rate over the past 10 years is actually 1.73% not 3.6%.

    The Census Bureau Shows:

    Population McHenry County, 2010 308,760

    Population McHenry County, 2000 260,077

    Annualized rate of growth: 1.73%

    Total growth for the entire period: 18.71%

    (Annualized rate of growth can be calculated by using a Rate of Return Calculator at web sites like this one: http://cgi.money.cnn.com/tools/returnrate/returnrate.jsp For “Starting Value” under “Purchase date:” put in 1/1/2000, for “Amount paid:” put in 260,077. For “Ending value” under “Purchase date:” put in 1/1/2010, for “Amount paid:” put in 308,760. Look at the box “Result” for “Annualized return: 1.73%”)

    Funny how rates look big when you take a 10 years chunk, but when you annualize year by year the number is only 1.73%.

    **When it only takes 5 minutes of investigation to check numbers like this, and you find them way off, it makes you wonder how much of the rest of a response is valid.

    I thought that Mary Miller’s response to Stephen Willson letter lacked any real analysis that Stephen Willson, and myself would expect from an institution of higher learning.

    There are many wonderful words used by Mary Miller, but if we are going to spend $280 million on an expansion I want to make sure the information and numbers we are getting are valid and accurate.

    Let’s reevaluate and with real numbers prove the correct answer to the question “Has a need been established?”

  6. The way we educate will change drastically.

    Technology means less need for buildings and huge campuses.

    We will have less teachers, professors, and administrators.

    The education industry does not like that change.

    It is fighting to make the status quo continue.

    It is fighting to give the impression it is not becoming obsolete.

    It is trying to paint itself as being all things to all people much as our libraries are doing.

    We are becoming a service industry as predicted decades ago.

    Even our white collar jobs are going overseas.

    Blue collar jobs are being replaced by robots whenever possible.

    Is it really so hard to picture education from overseas coming here?

  7. It must be a lot of fund playing with other peoples money!

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