Oakland University Expands Its Reach

Oakland University Expands Its Reach
April 29, 2013/The Detroit News

By Kim Kozlowski

Rochester — Oakland University was once a bucolic place that began with two buildings in the middle of Oakland County.

More than 50 years later, the university has grown up, with students flocking to the campus, program offerings exploding and buildings sprouting everywhere.

But OU has yet to come of age, say officials, who contend the school's evolution puts it on the cusp of becoming a major player in Michigan's higher education scene.

"Oakland has a tremendous history of success and a great foundation as a very exciting institution, given our location and potential to interact and connect with business, industry and government in southeast Michigan," said university president Gary Russi. "It only makes sense to become more of a predominant player, not only in higher education but in the community."

During the past 15 years, the university's enrollment has grown 41.4 percent to nearly 20,000, giving the school a higher profile, especially in key areas.

Course offerings have grown to include 65 programs, mostly master's and doctoral degrees. The university broke into NCAA Division I sports in 1998. And the Carnegie Foundation, which creates academic context to the nation's higher education system, classified OU as a doctoral/research university in 1993 for offering at least 20 doctoral programs.

Meanwhile, OU partnered with Cooley Law School in 2002 to offer a law program on campus. In 2011, it opened the state's fourth medical school, joining the University of Michigan, Michigan State and Wayne State.

OU also has enjoyed national recognition.

In October, the university hosted a campaign rally with Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan.

A year earlier, the university held a nationally televised presidential primary debate featuring eight GOP hopefuls.

"Through a confluence of things that have happened, and the university's leadership and commitment to a more robust academic and campus life, we've become bigger and our profile has increased in the community, and among students," spokesman Ted Montgomery said.

To accommodate its growth, the university broke ground this month on two major projects: a $30 million student housing facility and a 151-foot carillon clock tower.

The housing facility, scheduled to open in August 2014, will be OU's 18th, adding 500 beds to the 2,100 already available.

The $6.5 million tower, with 49 bells, was donated by longtime benefactors Hugh and Nancy Elliott. Also to be completed in August 2014, the tower will be nestled in the middle of campus, near a water fountain and garden.

The projects are among several — totaling nearly $300 million — launched in the last three years. The recently completed $65 million Human Health Building, which opened in August, houses the School of Nursing and School of Health Sciences.

Other projects include a $75 million Engineering Center, a $23 million parking structure with 1,240 spaces and an $8 million renovation to the Upper Playfields, where the university hosts some sporting events.

Students, such as Steven Hart, are thrilled about having a new engineering building, since classes now are spread across five buildings. "It will just make it easier," said Hart of St. Clair Shores. "It will all be right there."

Others say the number of students on campus makes parking a sport.

"I've driven around for an hour looking for a spot," said Jennifer Goodman, a student from Oak Park.

Funding for the enhancements has come from enrollment growth. Additionally, OU completed a $110 million capital campaign in 2009 and is in the silent phase of another campaign.

Looking to the future

Founded in 1957 as a part of Michigan State University, OU has become the state's eighth largest university. Regionally, it eclipses the student population of the University of Michigan's Flint and Dearborn campuses.

Although students hail primarily from Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties, the university is starting to attract out-of-state and international students.

Students who attend other nearby universities say OU is still fighting to break out of its image as a regional university.

"It seems like they are a couple steps above the community college level, but not quite at the university level," said Brian Stone, a U-M Dearborn sophomore. "It's a place students go to eventually to get to their first-choice destination."

But Dave Singhal, a freshman from Troy, said he was accepted at U-M and MSU, but chose OU. He preferred a school with smaller classes and more opportunities, he said.

This summer, he'll be doing research with a professor examining the corn genome and how it changes over time.

"The opportunities here are really great," said Singhal, 18. "I'm looking forward to the future."