Criminal justice program grows, board approves tuition increase

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Southwestern Michigan College Board of Trustees heard a presentation on the college’s fast-growing criminal justice program. One hundred students chose criminal justice as their major for spring semester 2014. The board also adjusted tuition for fall 2014 and conducted other business during its regularly scheduled Feb. 17 meeting on the Dowagiac campus.

Criminal justice already ranks in the top three majors, behind only pre-nursing and communications. SMC introduced the criminal justice program last fall with 60 students enrolled “before we even offered a class. The excitement was tangible when I walked into the classroom,” Director Todd Adkins recalls. “The first day we went around the class and had each student tell why they were here. We had a great deal of diversity of reasons other than just ‘badges and guns.’ A lot of students want to use the criminal justice degree to go to law school, graduate school or into social work.”

Besides SMC’s Associate in Applied Science in Criminal Justice degree, students can continue at SMC to a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice degree from Ferris State University. “Ferris ranks as one of the best, well-respected criminal justice schools in the entire country,” according to Adkins, who projects more than 200 criminal justice majors by the 2014 fall semester.

Criminal justice is a 3+1 program with Ferris, which means students can attend all four years on the SMC campus, with three of them at SMC’s lower tuition rate. The flexible bachelor’s degree prepares students for federal, state and local law enforcement, whether police, detectives, corrections officers, probation officers, fish and game officers or private investigation for companies.

In addition to Adkins, SMC hired adjunct instructors for this semester: Chief of Staff Tom Atkinson, who served 25 years with the Cass County Sheriff’s Office and 16 years as Dowagiac police chief and public safety director, including fire administration; Carol Bealor, Cass County Friend of the Court; Michigan Department of Corrections parole agent Val Johnson; and Krista Smith, Cass County Community Corrections director.

“Students love having practitioners from this wonderful criminal justice community we have right here in Cass County,” Adkins said.  “They bring a completely different perspective from what I might bring.”

Curriculum for the two-year degree includes introduction to criminal justice, introduction to corrections, juvenile delinquency and prevention and criminal justice administration. “An important part of this to me is building relationships it will take to make sure our students succeed,” Adkins said. “I can’t tell you how fantastic it’s been. The criminal justice community in our region has been so supportive it’s almost breathtaking at times. Everybody in the criminal justice world in southwest Michigan held out their hand to me and said, ‘What can we do to help?’ ” Partners in that regard have included Dowagiac Police Department, Cass and Berrien County sheriff’s offices, Michigan State Police and social service agencies.

Also at Monday’s meeting, the Board of Trustees adopted the tuition and fee schedule to be effective for the 2014 fall semester. Changes include a $1.75 per contact hour increase for in-district students, a $2.75 increase for out-of-district students, a $3 increase for out-of-state students and a $4.25 increase for international students. New contact hour rates represent less than a two-percent increase as follows: in-district, $111.25 (up from $109.50); in-state, $144.25 (up from $141.50); out-of-state, $157 (up from $154); and international, $202.25 (up from $198).

Additionally, trustees approved a $1-per-hour increase in the college’s registration fee (up from $16.75) and a $1 increase in the technology fee (up from $25).

According to Chairman Dr. Fred L. Mathews, “Southwestern Michigan College was the enrollment growth leader among Michigan’s 28 community colleges for each of the last two semesters. “Exceptional enrollment growth over the past year is allowing the college to keep tuition increases to a bare minimum — 1.6 percent for in-district students, 1.9 percent for in-state, 1.9 percent for out-of-state and 2.1 percent for international students.”

Mathews continued, “SMC is committed to providing affordable local access to high-quality, post-secondary career preparation and college education — including the total college life experience. The low tuition rate increases approved tonight will insure that students from SMC’s district will still be able to attend for less than half the cost of Western Michigan University, less than a third of those at Michigan State University and about a quarter of the cost of the University of Michigan.”