Southwestern Michigan College is suing the state

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A local college says it is standing up for its students, and it's not backing down. Southwestern Michigan College filed a lawsuit against the state.

The college has sued the Michigan auditor general. The office told Southwestern Michigan College that any part-time student worker has to be enrolled in the state teacher's retirement fund.

College leaders at the college are calling that crazy. They say the state is overstepping.

Last year, almost 300 students were part-time employees of the school.

"We feel if we can employ them on campus, it's that much less time that they have to spend and money they have to spend, maybe at South Bend at the mall to work a job down there," said Susan Coulston, the chief business officer for the school.

Coulston says it helps pay tuition. At Southwestern Michigan College., more than half of the students are in financial need.

"At a community college, you can still make a real dent in your tuition by working," said President David Mathews. "But these are typically at or near minimum wage paying jobs."

The Michigan auditor has ordered the college to enroll part-time student workers in the state's teacher retirement fund; That means a portion of pay would go to the fund.

"I mean, we have kids for $10 and $20 a week are strapped for their gas to get here, and that can make the difference of whether they can go to school or not," said Coulston.

SMC. has never enrolled students in the retirement fund before. Mathews says the state's order goes against what federal agencies have told them. He doesn't know why there is now a sudden change.

"Everyone knows the state teacher's retirement system is underfunded. It doesn't have enough money coming in, and if you were to take money from students and put it into that, who would never get that money back, it could help float the system. I hope that's not the benefit, but I could think of no other good reason," he said.

Mathews says he never wanted to resort to suing the state, but says he is willing to fight for the students at his school.

"We are not just going to roll over with something that is wrong, just because a particular state agency is overreaching their authority to try and say that we should."

WSBT 22 reached out to Michigan's Office of the Auditor General, but a spokesperson says they cannot comment on pending lawsuits.

Almost every department at the college has some type of student worker opportunity. The school allocates about $700,000 per year to pay those students.

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