|Higher Education Leaders in West Michigan form New Consortium|
June 15, 2010/MLive.com
By John Perney
If it wasn’t fully communicated before, higher education leaders in Southwest Michigan have now made it clear that “we’re in this thing together.”
On June 3, the presidents of Western Michigan University, Glen Oaks Community College, Kalamazoo Valley Community College, Kellogg Community College, Lake Michigan College, Muskegon Community College and Southwestern Community College announced the creation of a new consortium aimed to increase and bolster higher ed opportunities for the region’s college students.
The group of seven educators had already met informally several times over the last couple of years to discuss common issues.
“Finally, out of all these conversations, we believed we ought to formalize a statement,” said John Dunn, president of WMU. “I wouldn’t overread into it that this is new. I guess much of our discussion at lunches is that we can sit there all we want and whine, but for our students today, this is their opportunity. It’s not about us, it’s about populations we’re trying to serve.”
That service seems likely to come in both direct and indirect forms.
Over the next few years, students should see more joint programs like the pilot dual-enrollment offerings launched 18 months ago serving Kellogg aviation and engineering students who plan to earn bachelor’s degrees from WMU.
“Energy is hot,” said Robert Harrison, president of Lake Michigan College. “Kal Valley has a great footprint in the maintenance of wind turbines. Western has some faculty working on alternative energy. We’ve got an energy program with our two nuclear plants. So maybe something along the lines of energy. And health is always hot. Those are areas of mutual interest.”
Energy and health, to a large extent, are where the jobs are and will be in the region, and, with that in mind, KVCC President Marilyn Schlack also sees potential in greater coordination of the schools’ job-placement services.
KVCC's SchlackJohn A. Lacko | Special to the GazetteKVCC president Marilyn Schlack.
“Instead of having a separate service on every single campus, is there a way for us to have one place for those looking to hire and for those looking for employment?” she said. “How do we tie that in with internships? How do we make that part of the discussion?”
In an era of declining state revenues, such combined efforts suggest necessary cost savings.
“There probably is an opportunity for scale, for more effective initiatives,” Harrison said.
Beyond that, however, an indirect benefit to students could be the stronger cases the schools can make for funding from both foundations and the federal government.
“I think there’s a growing realization among all the partners that the game is a regional game — the whole part of the state, not just a couple of community colleges in Southwest Michigan,” Harrison said. “I think greater size and scope is more appealing to the funders.”
Up next is a series of meetings between other officials at the schools to begin examining actual programs and formulating ventures. Each school will appoint a liaison to the consortium.
Your Region Your Business
This story is part of Business Review's annual "Your Region Your Business" special coverage. Read some of the other stories from the June 17 section:
* Business Review's regional forecast looks at key industries in West Michigan
* Commercial real estate — where do we go from here?
* Grandville manufacturer expands in Kalamazoo
“I think it’s a recognition of the times,” Schlack said. “We’ve had discussions and done some good things. Right now the time has come to give it more focus.”
At 35.8 percent, Michigan ranks lower than the national average, 37.8 percent, in residents with college degrees, according to the U.S. Census. And with Michigan’s unemployment rate — 14 percent in April — being the nation’s highest four years running, it’s glaringly apparent there’s work to be done.
“We want to get people to degree completion,” Dunn said. “For some, that’s a two-year degree in a technical field and they’re ready to go. For some, it’s more of a transition and creating a pathway to a four-year degree.”
Speaking about the unemployment rate, Dunn added, “If you have a baccalaureate degree, you can halve that figure. It’s 50 percent of that. A degree is not a total indicator of one’s intellect or ability to contribute to society, but it really opens doors.
“And we just want to make sure that the next generation has the same access points to success and degree completion.”