Michigan's community college district boundaries could be creating inequities in how much funding schools receive and what students pay for their education, suggests a new report from the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank.
It recommends the state give more funding to community colleges in areas with lower property tax revenues and that schools stop charging out-of-district students higher tuition.
The report's recommendations apply to Michigan community colleges as well as those throughout the nation dealing with similar issues.
The report homes in on Henry Ford College, whose district spans the Michigan city of Dearborn and part of a neighboring jurisdiction. Yet it's only 10 miles from downtown Detroit, and 59% of its students come from outside of its district.
That's a problem, the report argues, because out-of-district students can pay much higher tuition. Full-time students living in Detroit and attending Henry Ford pay $2,000 more annually than they would if they enrolled in their district's community college.
"You have this slight migration of students coming from one district to another, but it comes at a cost," said Bradley Custer, a senior policy analyst at CAP and the report's author. "Students are having to pay more out of pocket."
These issues aren't isolated to Michigan. At least 200 community colleges across 17 states charge different rates for in-district and out-of-district students, according to the report.
Students might choose an out-of-district college because they like the programs it offers or it's closer to home, Custer said. He recommends schools extend tuition discounts to out-of-district students or end the practice altogether.
The Wisconsin Technical College System doesn't charge students different rates based on where they live, though the colleges charge different tuition prices, the report notes.
Black students are also overrepresented at Henry Ford compared to its district population, which is mostly White. Yet the college has the third-lowest local appropriations per full-time-equivalent student among the state's community colleges due to its small size and lower taxable value, and it charges more than half of its students its higher out-of-district rate. That results in "serious equity implications," the report notes.
The report recommends Michigan adopt policies to better spread funding across its community colleges. It calls out Illinois, which gives grants to community colleges to make up for disparities in their districts' property tax revenues, as well as extra funds for small schools.