Archived Story

SMC enrollment up 20.7 percent on top of 8 percent for last year

Published 9:08am Friday, September 11, 2009

By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News

Southwestern Michigan College’s strategy is simple.

It wants a heftier slice of a shrinking pie.

In other words, SMC “wants a larger share of the high school graduating seniors choosing” to attend college in Dowagiac.

That’s why SMC built its first residence hall, named for Vice Chairman Keith McKenzie, with a second dormitory under construction to open in the fall of 2010.

How’s that strategy working out for SMC?

“As of opening day” Sept. 8, Dr. David M. Mathews addressed Dowagiac Rotary Club at Elks Lodge 889, “we are up 20.7 percent in enrollment – and that is on top of 8 percent last year.

“The student life strategies we put in place, like adding our first student housing unit with McKenzie Hall, which has a waiting list, will continue to allow us to get an expanding share of a shrinking pie. High school graduating classes are getting smaller. We knew that and it’s not a surprise. We keep our eyes open and watch the demographics.

“We’re always going to serve a couple thousand adult returning students as part of our mission, but to be financially viable, we had to get more recent high school graduates. It lined up for us at a time when state university tuitions in Michigan exceed $9,000 a year,” compared to an annual cost of $3,200 to attend SMC.

Mathews said the Student Activity Center in the Charles O. Zollar Building opened at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, with air conditioning soon to follow.

Fitness equipment arrived the day after the public open house Aug. 16.

“We trained about 45 students in the rock gym last night,” Mathews said. “We took 11 students through a week-long training program on how to safely operate that facility.”
Oct. 13 the SMC Board of Trustees opens construction bids for renovation and expansion of the automotive training facility in the Kairis complex.
“Of everything we’ve been doing the last few years,” he said, “that’s the only one we’re actually getting some state funding for. In this environment, we’ve worked endlessly for the past three to 3 1/2 years to be on the list of the limited number of projects that get state funding.

“This time next year, we’ll be having an open house and rededication of the Kairis complex,” Mathews said.

Nov. 14 at 7 p.m. at the college will be the Inspiration Scholarship Foundation’s second annual theater production, “For Better or Worse,” co-written by Mathews and his wife, Sarah, the foundation’s president.

Finally, “In our transition to a partially residential campus,” Mathews said, “we obviously have a lot of other things we have to be mindful of that we’ve been planning for a couple of years. Hours of the library, for example. The lighting of the campus at night.” Coordinating Cass County Sheriff’s Office, Dowagiac Police Department and private security protection.

Mathews brought in a security consultant to be on campus for the last week at night to check operations.

It seemed like the consultant had been introduced to everyone.

“As it turns out,” Mathews said, “maintenance did not introduce him to the night cleaning crew. When they saw a suspicious guy pulling on doors, you’ll be happy to know that Dowagiac Police Department can respond in three minutes. It provided a pretty good test.”

SMC’s president led off Thursday’s “open mic” program.

A drawing determined which four Rotarians would be allotted five minutes to talk about whatever they like – business, family, travel.

“Whatever tickles your side,” explained President Cathy Merrill, who celebrates her 28th wedding anniversary today with her husband, Randy.

Mathews recalled that when SMC faculty returned Aug. 29, he asked them whether they wanted to hear the good news or the bad news about Michigan’s economy and how it affects Southwestern Michigan College.”

Trick question.

“There is no good news,” Mathews delivered his punchline.

“The state has somewhere around a $2 billion budget shortfall. We (SMC) will be facing another $1 million reduction in state aid. When I became president, we were getting $7.2 million a year in state aid. Today, we get $6.2 million a year. When this thing plays out, we will have $5.2 million a year.

“The good news is that anyone who has been watching has seen this develop since 2001,” Mathews said. “Our strategies we have in place are going to be more than sufficient to allow the college to weather this and be able to provide high-quality educational opportunities.”

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