GVSU grows in stature as valued community asset

November 23, 2010
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The 50th anniversary marked by Grand Valley State University provides a recollection of cows grazing in the pastures behind the first buildings sited in Allendale, and the group of Grand Rapids area businessmen who stood with shovels and dared to dig in.

The progress of the institution is as remarkable as that early image, and certainly due not only to the extraordinary leadership of a then nationally recognized young leader, but also former President Don Lubbers’ ability to keep and create business partnerships that provided for its success. Its current leader, Thomas Haas, continues that vision and is paving new ground for the next 50 years.

This community and the higher education community provide varied accolades for the university, but its highest praise is that of continued donor beneficence, at far greater levels. Students may not see how unique such contributions are, nor the benefit as it translates to contained tuition rates by university board guidance.

Such beneficence from the start was in large part also the gift of vision by one of GVSU’s founders, L. William Seidman, former chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and MSNBC commentator until his death in 2009. The recently announced $40 million building plan for the Seidman College of Business at the downtown campus is named for his father, Frank Edward Seidman, who founded Grand Rapids-based accounting firm BDO/Seidman. The project was given its start with a substantial donation from Rich and Helen DeVos.

In a community strongly associated with financial value, GVSU’s “accountability report” issued late last month provides the balance sheet and return on the investments made. The university has been named by Institutional Research and Evaluation as one of America’s 100 Best College Buys for the last 15 years. The designation is measured by the high school GPA and/or SAT scores equal to or above the national average for entering college freshmen, and by holding tuition rates below the national average (or not exceeding the national average by 10 percent). Ninety-one percent of 2009 graduates have jobs or are pursuing additional education; 88 percent of those with jobs are working in Michigan.

Indeed, GVSU is a poster child for Governor-elect Rick Snyder’s proposal to fund state colleges and universities based on accountability outcomes. Haas shows leadership in anticipating this as a growing national trend, even telling the Business Journal, “That’s imperative, we must embrace it.” Haas has overseen some of the largest sums of national resources coming to the university such as the $1.1 million in National Science Foundation grants supporting a new master’s program in biomedical engineering and research in biology, mathematics and fossils. He is adamant about creating new revenue streams via commercialization of university research efforts.

Those efforts may not be as visible as the $200 million in downtown development the past 10 years, or the university’s $643.9 million community impact, but the intellectual property will be of even greater value. And that is an asset that will continue to grow at even faster rates.

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