Stability is focus of new Baker College president

January 11, 2009
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MUSKEGON — Baker College of Muskegon is close to naming a director for its new Culinary Institute of Michigan.

Mary Ann Herbst, president of the business college’s Muskegon campus, said she expects to announce this month that a director has been chosen to replace Alex Erdmann, who was dismissed for undisclosed reasons in 2008 after one year on the job.

“We are very much in that process. We’ve been doing some very aggressive recruiting with a professional search firm. We are very, very close to making that announcement,” Herbst said last week.

The announcement, as well as Herbst’s selection as president for 2009 and the choice of her successor, will cap a tumultuous time on Baker College’s 40-acre Muskegon campus.

Herbst said stability is one of her goals as she leads the campus until Dec. 31. That’s when Lee Coggin will take the president’s chair and Herbst will return to her long-time post as vice president of academics.

“Stability, our continued growth and meeting the needs of our community, and also making sure the programs our students are entering will lead them to employment,” said Herbst, vice president of academics since 1996.

Herbst was chosen last month by Baker College President & CEO F. James Cummins and the college’s local Board of Regents to fill the top spot, left vacant last fall with the resignation of Rick Amidon. Amidon had led the Muskegon campus for 12 years, but went on medical leave in mid-2008 and stepped down in November after a drunk-driving arrest in Oceana County.

Shortly after Amidon left on leave, the leader of Baker’s culinary arts school was dismissed after one year on the job. Work on a new $11 million building, at Third Street and Clay Avenue on the former Muskegon Mall site, for Baker’s Culinary Institute of Michigan continues toward a fall opening, Herbst said.

The turmoil at the top has done little to dampen enrollment at the Muskegon campus, which drew a record number of 5,197 students this fall, Herbst said.

“We don’t just serve the traditional students coming out of high school. Our average age is 27,” Herbst said. “People who are downsized, people who are laid off or their companies are moving out — they need a new career now.

“When unemployment goes up, our enrollment goes up.”

Baker College’s focus is training and education for specific jobs, Herbst said, and she wants to make sure that programs are aimed at sectors that are hiring. She said the college plans to survey employers in a five-county area this year, and may even consider adding or dropping program depending on the demand for jobs.

“The job market’s really tough right now,” Herbst said, noting some Baker graduates are considering jobs outside the Muskegon area and some are looking outside of Michigan.

Coggin, Herbst’s successor as president, became vice president of academics after serving as dean of general education.

“We’ve found that it’s a good transition to go from the vice president of academics into the presidency,” said Herbst. “If you’ve done that role, you have a major understanding of what our business is. The gentleman who is going to be succeeding me needs to have that experience. He’s got great potential. Hopefully, if the plan works out, he would be able to stay in the position for a number of years.”

Herbst said that at 60, she was reluctant to take on the role of president with a promise for a long-term commitment. She said she intends to stay on as vice president of academics for at least six months after Coggin becomes president next Jan. 1.

Based in Flint, Baker College has nine campuses and six branches in the Lower Peninsula and Ontario, including Muskegon and Fremont. Its career-focused two-year, bachelor’s and master’s degree programs cover areas including business administration, computer information systems, corporate services, education, engineering and technology, general education, health sciences and human services. The college also offers online courses.

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