December 23, 2009/The Grand Rapids Press
By Dave Murray
GRAND RAPIDS -- Community college enrollment is hitting record levels in Grand Rapids and elsewhere, and Ferris State University leaders say there's a growing need for people to lead those schools as they grow.
Ferris trustees last week approved creating a doctoral program for community college administrators, planning to focus on the special needs at two-year institutions.
"We're seeing a real explosion in the number of community college students," said Fritz Erickson, Ferris' provost and vice president for academic affairs.
"The reality is that the road out of our economic problems in our state and country is going to be education, and we're going to need more people to run these institutions."
Experts say such programs are growing in number. The University of Michigan is the only other state university with a community college program, but it focuses on research instead of administration.
George Boggs, president of the American Association of Community Colleges, consulted with Ferris staff members as they designed the course.
He said such courses are needed because a generation of community college leaders is retiring soon, and the growth in the campuses are adding more pressure for people to lead the institutions.
Boggs said community colleges have different roles and needs than four-year schools.
"Community colleges tend to be more innovative and entrepreneurial," he said. "I know one college that starts some classes at midnight and others offering classes in shopping malls."
He said community colleges tend to work more closely with their municipalities, looking to train people for regional industries.
"And they tend to be not nearly as well-funded as the four-year schools," Boggs said. "People leading the schools need to know a great deal about financial planning so they can make the wisest fiscal decisions."
Community college leaders need to be "incredibly nimble" as they meet their region's needs, and recognize the subtle differences in culture and curriculum compared to what is found in four-year schools, Erickson said.
Ferris has partnerships with Grand Rapids Community College and 16 other of Michigan's 28 community colleges.
The Ferris program is designed to be practical, pairing professors with current community college administrators.
The university expects to enroll its first class in the program next summer, and plans call for a maximum of 25 students the first year.
Erickson said Ferris hopes to make many of the classes available online.
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