University Of Phoenix Gauges Zeeland Satellite Campus

March 25, 2002
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ZEELAND — Efforts to offer graduate and undergraduate courses locally could ultimately lead to the University of Phoenix establishing a permanent satellite campus in the Zeeland area.

The business school is presently working to gauge interest in weekly classes at the Howard Miller Community Center in downtown Zeeland.

If that initiative works out, and university administrators believe it will, the school may replicate the route it recently took in Kalamazoo and begin searching for leased space to house a local satellite campus. The idea is to make it easier for University of Phoenix students, most of whom are in their 30s and work full time, to fit their continuing education around their jobs.

“Having a lot of smaller sites makes a lot more sense than having a larger central site that may not be convenient,” said Sue Barnstable, director of operations and student services at the University of Phoenix’s West Michigan Campus in Walker. “It expands our reach when we can go into those areas and make it easier to come to class.”

A larger presence in Zeeland beyond the weekly classes at the Howard Miller Community Center “all depends on how much demand there is,” Barnstable said.

An estimated 20 percent of the 800 people enrolled at University of Phoenix’s Walker campus are from the Zeeland-Holland area. At the request of a local businessman and the Zeeland Chamber of Commerce, the university has decided to begin offering classes in Zeeland one night a week.

In establishing local classes, the university would become the latest institute of higher education in the area that already includes Hope College, Davenport University and Grand Valley State University.

Davenport University established a Holland campus in 1992 and completed a major $1.2 million expansion last year. The campus has an enrollment of about 850.

Grand Valley State University developed and opened its $6 million Meijer Campus in Holland in June 1998. The Meijer Campus had an enrollment of more than 1,800 in the winter semester.

Hope has been in Holland since 1867.

The University of Phoenix hopes to start classes in Zeeland this spring and is presently making the rounds of local companies to gauge interest. The university would need an initial enrollment of only 15 people to begin offering classes locally, said Steve Bastek, a business development specialist at the Walker campus.

“I’m pretty optimistic we can get something going,” Bastek said. “We’re working hard to make it happen.”

The Walker campus took a similar tack last July when it started offering classes in Kalamazoo. The school, with a Kalamazoo-area enrollment of about 200, is pursuing space for a permanent satellite campus in a Portage office building, Bastek said.

Established in 1975, the University of Phoenix is the nation’s largest private college with 107,000 students at 160 locations in 20 states. The university offers accelerated undergraduate and graduate courses lasting five to six weeks.

University of Phoenix students have an average age of 36 and are typically professionals working on a new degree that will help them change or further their career.

Overtures to offer classes in Zeeland came as the Walker campus was already exploring options for branching out into the lakeshore area, Barnstable said. The arrangement with the City of Zeeland for use of the Howard Miller Community Center is a “natural fit,” because the Zeeland area has a large manufacturing and employment base from which to draw students, she said.

People who’ve been working all day tend to not want to drive 30 or so minutes to Grand Rapids to attend class, Barnstable said. Establishing off-campus classes enables the university to better serve those students and grow, she said.

“We wanted to make it convenient for them and that just helps our enrollment,” Barnstable said.

In Zeeland, the move is seen as more than a convenience. Evening college classes in downtown can generate new business opportunities for merchants, said Anne Query, executive director of the Zeeland Chamber of Commerce.

“It kind of met a lot of needs,” Query said.    

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