Talking higher ed

MARQUETTE – The Upper Peninsula’s three public university presidents had a common message during a recent taping of WMNU’s “Media Meet” – collaboration is key in higher education.

The show will air at 6:30 p.m. Saturday on Public TV 13, repeating at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

It will also air of Public Radio 90 at 7:30 a.m. Sunday, repeating at 3:30 p.m. Monday.

Dual enrollment opportunities for high school students, easily transferable credits between universities in the state, partnerships with local businesses and reverse credit transfer agreements between universities and community colleges were all ways each president said universities can help cut down the cost of higher education.

Michigan Technological University President Glenn Mroz said collaboration has been the name of the game in the U.P. for years, citing the practice of allowing reverse credit transfers from four-year institutions to community colleges as a good example.

“Now the legislature has proclaimed we have to do that, but we were doing it in the U.P., just kind of on a handshake deal way before that just because the presidents got along well,” Mroz said.

Northern Michigan University President Fritz Erickson said the single biggest factor in cutting student costs is keeping time to degree as low as possible by fostering dual enrollment opportunities and credit transfers, among other ways. He also said good partnerships with local businesses would be key in the future.

“There’s a lot of education that goes on within the business community,” Erickson said. “We should find ways in which students can have credit that can be applied toward stepping forward in a variety of degrees.”

Mroz said businesses are clamoring for university graduates with talent in their fields, discussing a job fair in the fall at Tech that brought 264 companies to Houghton.

“Most of our listeners or the viewers will know that Houghton isn’t really on the way to anyplace,” Mroz said. “You just don’t stop by. It’s kind of a destination place, but companies – everybody from Caterpillar to GM to Target – are coming to campus looking for people who have talent. That’s critical.”

Pleger said he’s heartened by what he sees as Michigan’s turnaround in higher education funding, saying this is the first year “in recent history” that there has been a reinvestment by the state, rather than a cut.

“Although it’s a modest reinvestment, we’re going in the right direction of returning state support to public access institutions and public universities,” Pleger said. “We’ll hope that trend continues because it’s going to help drive down the overall tuition costs or at least hold it.”

He also said he hopes Michigan continues to see the importance of the arts in education.

“We want to create artists, creative people, people who can use their talent base and skills to go in a whole variety of directions with their careers,” Pleger said. “That’s something we need to keep in mind. I’m concerned there are some other states doing the opposite.”

That was an idea both Mroz and Erickson agreed with.

“The STEM that everyone has gotten used to hearing about, more recently people are talking about STEAM – science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics,” Mroz said.

Erickson said fostering creativity in students can also help foster the entrepreneurship needed to bring jobs to the U.P.

“We are collectively producing a generation of students that not are not only prepared to take a great job but are prepared to create a great job and that’s really become a focus for all of our institutions,” Erickson said. “I talk to so many of our students and so many of our graduates and the No. 1 thing that they want is to stay in the Upper Peninsula, and so helping support those efforts is a very important thing for us.”

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.