Working for the Common Good: Public Universities to Showcase Community Partnerships and Economic Development Initiatives

Working for the Common Good: Public Universities to Showcase Community Partnerships and Economic Development Initiatives
March 06, 2012/The Grand Rapids Press

By Brian McVicar

Fritz Erickson, Ferris State University’s provost, likes to joke that he could spend hours talking about an initiative at Ferris that aims to get Hispanic students from West Michigan to go to college.

Today, as he speaks with the public and members of the Michigan Legislature, he’ll face a much smaller timeframe: three minutes.

He’s among the representatives of Michigan’s 15 public universities participating in an event at the state Capitol – sponsored by the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan – highlighting the work the schools do to help boost the state’s economy through community partnerships.

“I could talk all afternoon about this,” Erickson said of Ferris’ summer partnership with the Hispanic Center of West Michigan to get Latino High School students from the Grand Rapids area thinking about going to college.

Instead, he said, “we’re going to pack it in there and give them as much as we can” in three minutes.

Under the program, Ferris faculty leads hands-on lessons that teach students about different careers they could pursue. They also teach students about resources that can help them pay for college, and take students on a three-day trip to Ferris’ main campus in Big Rapids, he said.
“Our goal is to get more of these students to come to college,” Erickson said. “If they go to Ferris – great. If they don’t go to Ferris – great. This is not a Ferris recruitment tool.”

Other universities from throughout the state will highlight their own community partnerships.

Grand Valley State University, for example, will discuss the Talent 2025 initiative, which brings together a broad coalition of community leaders, business executives and educators with the goal of creating a skilled workforce.

According to the Lumina Foundation, an organization that works to grow the number of students enrolling and graduating from college, 62 percent of Michigan jobs by 2018 will require some type of post-secondary education.

Stacy Stout, education director at the Hispanic Center, said Ferris’ initiative is important because the number of Hispanic residents with a college degree is lower than that of other ethnic groups.

And improving Michigan’s economy depends on building an educated workforce – something the program aims to do, she said.

“It’s giving students hope and preparation for college,” Stout said. “It’s critical.”

Michael Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan, said it’s important that legislators and the public recognize that universities have a mission that goes beyond educating students.

“We’re much more than that,” he said. We have an “economic impact in our respective regions.”

William Crawley, associate dean of GVSU’s College of Community and Public Service, agrees.

“Too often people put a limited scope on what public universities do,” he said. “They don’t just educate students, we help the communities we’re a part of.”
Crawley will discuss GVSU’s role in the Talent 2025 initiative as well as an effort that identifies neighborhoods in the Grand Rapids area that are home to low-income families and children who aren’t meeting educational goals.

Once identified, the project aims to provide the resources to help the students perform better in school, he said.

“We call it a contribution to the common good,” he said.