“The recession is driving enrollment pretty dramatically,” says Washtenaw Community College president Larry Whitworth.
In the last academic year, WCC saw enrollment increases of 10 percent, 7 percent, and 16 percent in consecutive semesters–and college officials expect much of the same this school year. “When people are unemployed or laid off, they’ll look for practical educational programs to help them reenter the job market,” says Whitworth. “Auto, auto-body, heating and air-conditioning, welding, nursing, radiography, physical therapy, and digital film are all very strong. And computer courses are always doing well.”
Paula Bartha, career education coordinator at WCC, says most of the people she works with are jobless or underemployed. “Four years ago, it was general labor and production workers, autoworkers and small parts suppliers mostly, people making a living wage with two incomes plus overtime. Three years ago, it was the people from Ford and then GM and Chrysler who took the buyouts and early retirements.”
This past year, she says, “we’ve seen more highly degreed workers…who’ve always had professional careers” but have lost them. “They’ve done everything they could think of, and they don’t know what’s left to try.”
Larry Cortright, a fifty-seven-year-old former pressman, was laid off in 2007 from Pall Life Sciences. He is taking classes at WCC in welding and writing. “It’s scary times right now,” Cortright says. “I don’t see the job market getting any better, and I don’t see the economy getting any better.”
Even when he gets his certificate at the end of the fall semester, Cortright doubts he’ll find a job locally. “I don’t want to leave Michigan, but I would because I like to eat.”