Traverse City News and Events

NMC Eyes Benzie County

By Art Bukowski | Sept. 15, 2023

A Northwestern Michigan College education could become much cheaper for Benzie County residents if an initiative for the college to “annex” that county is successful.

While students from across the greater Grand Traverse region and beyond attend NMC, only Grand Traverse County residents get in-district rates. That’s because Grand Traverse County is the only county with a millage that supports college operations. The in-district rate is $122 a contact hour, while others pay $261.

“You’re paying taxes, and in return, you’re getting a lower rate for college,” NMC President Nick Nissley tells The Ticker. “If you’re from Benzie, right now you’re not paying those taxes, and therefore you’re out-of-district.”

Two citizen groups in Benzie want NMC to formally add their county to the district, a move that would require approval from NMC trustees along with a successful millage election in Benzie County. Nissley says the proposed millage there would be the same as in Grand Traverse County, which currently sits at 2.057 mills.

Nissley and the citizen groups – Advocates for Benzie Couty and BEST Benzie County (Building Educational Success and Training) – point to a large group of citizens in the county who stand to benefit.

“Yes, Benzie Central and Frankfort produce a couple hundred graduates every year, but those folks in Benzie are also concerned about the 8,000 residents in their county who lack post-high school training,” Nissley says “How do we assist those individuals so that they can take advantage of educational opportunities? Here’s a way that we can make it accessible by making it more affordable.”

In addition to several associate’s degrees and a few bachelor's degrees, NMC offers a host of training and continuing education programs that could benefit Benzie County residents.

“There’s going to be ways for us to engage with Benzie that go beyond the traditional 18-year-old student leaving high school and coming to college,” Nissley says. “What about those 8,000 adults who may want to upskill, and those employers that need them to upskill?

NMC’s board of directors in a recent study session was warm to the idea of exploring adding Benzie to the district, Nissley says, particularly because people in Benzie initiated the talks. Now, the two citizen groups will host a community meeting at 7 p.m. on Sept. 19 at the Mills Community House to explore the idea further.

“We recognize that this may be a really heavy lift for Benzie County, but we think it’s worth trying,” Maggie Bacon, BEST’s coordinator, tells The Ticker. “Next week will be about finding those community leaders who will really be champions of this.”

The heavy lift lies in the fact that taxes can be unpopular, particularly in rural areas. Nissley says the millage will result in about $257 in taxes annually for a $250,000 home. Bacon says it will be critical to explain that NMC’s services and opportunities go far beyond that of a traditional college education.

“NMC is also about career building,” she says. “NMC calls itself a college, and they don’t have a choice, it’s their name, but that word itself can be a barrier in some parts of rural Michigan.”

NMC plans a series of listening sessions throughout the county in the fall and into the winter. Depending on what officials hear, NMC trustees could officially approve moving forward with the process in the spring, with a millage election set for late 2024.

It’s too soon to say what adding Benzie might look like for NMC’s staffing or locations, Nissley says, but he hopes the listening sessions will help iron out the details.

“We want to listen to the community and figure out what they need and what they desire,” he says.

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