University Center makes mark in NEMichigan

November 17, 2008
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LANSING — The University Center at Gaylord is its 25th year of offering opportunities in higher education for residents in northeastern Michigan.

The center hosts classes for students who want to earn a college degree but can’t easily travel to four-year institutions in the state. That’s especially an advantage to students in the northeastern Lower Peninsula, since the nearest four-year institution, Central Michigan University, is about 100 miles away.

“Our purpose is to provide education to the population that otherwise can’t receive it because they can’t go there,” said Jack Thompson, the executive director of the University Center.

At the center, students can earn degrees ranging from associate’s to master’s in a variety of programs from its eight partner institutions: CMU, Spring Arbor University, Madonna University, Eastern Michigan University, North Central Michigan College, Davenport University, Michigan State University and Kirtland Community College’s Michigan Technical Education Center.

Susie Marshall, who is working on an associate’s degree at North Central through the center, said, “They have a very professional staff, and the class size is small, so I think my questions get the time they deserve.” 

Jody Hessen, director of CMU student services for off-campus programs, said, “Northeastern Michigan is an area without easy access to higher education. The University Center makes it easier to receive information about higher education. There are even a few people from Petoskey that would commute to Gaylord.”

Thompson said the facility teaches about 2,300 students in an average year, many from communities such as Alpena, Charlevoix and Atlanta, because it costs them less than attending college further away. 

Most students who pursue undergraduate, postgraduate or doctoral degrees usually finish the program at the center, he added. Other students in general education or who use the center for their first two years transfer to the campus of one of the partner colleges, Thompson said.

However, Hessen said, no CMU students are currently enrolled there because the university didn’t have enough students to offer face-to-face classes in Gaylord this fall.

“We tried to recruit some undergrad programs, but the students had a variety of interests and experiences, so taking online courses was a better option for them,” she said.

The center shares a building with its partner, the M-TEC at Kirtland Community College. M-TECs provide career-training programs in general education, business and manufacturing. 

Mark McCulley, executive director of the M-TEC, said there are between 350 and 400 M-TEC students at the center. The M-TEC offers business and career programs that include carpentry, nursing, cardiovascular stenography, and welding and fabricating.

“The center has opened a lot of doors for a lot of people that otherwise wouldn’t be able to go to college,” McCulley said. “Our fees are more reasonable than most four-year institutions.”

Thompson said the facility is the only university center in the state owned by a community, Otsego County, instead of a university. 

Because there is no direct state aid, it’s funded mainly by a countywide property tax levy.

Michael Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan, said the growing number of students enrolled in the area may help keep more graduates in state and improve employment opportunities.

“Michigan’s long-term future is with keeping young people in the state,” Boulus said.  “If we don’t get more higher education, it’s doomed to be poor.”

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