Lake Superior State University: A Prototype for Michigan’s Regional Public Universities
(Note – A version of this commentary by LSSU President Peter Mitchell was run in the Oct. 12 Op-Ed section of the Detroit News.)
Governor Rick Snyder challenged public university presidents and trustees at the third annual State Universities Summit “to envision and embrace transformational change; to lead not adapt; to collaborate not compete; and to be proactive not reactive.” The Governor encouraged public higher education to be a driver of economic development, innovation, and entrepreneurism.
His vision for higher education revitalizing Michigan’s economic and cultural future entails seizing opportunities inherent within four macro-trends:
- Declining numbers of high school graduates that force public universities to expand student populations beyond the state and beyond the traditional 18-24 age demographic.
- Advanced placement courses, early/middle college, and dual enrollment that enable high school students to enter college with a year or more of academic credit toward a degree.
- An economy that demands more postsecondary credentials; not just degrees but certification programs.
- Technologies that are expanding so rapidly workers must commit to lifelong learning in order to master new technologies and to cope with the magnitude of societal change.
Lake Superior State University accepts the Governor’s challenge. Our small size, entrepreneurial spirit, distinct location, and unique mission equip Lake State to be the prototype for Michigan’s public universities and an ideal beta test for implementing policies and practices which are responsive to the on the macro-trends identified by the Governor.
Lake State’s enrollment of 2,000, with a strategy to grow to 3,000, is one-third the size of the next smallest public university in Michigan. Nimble and entrepreneurial, Lakers are ready, willing and eager to take risks, try new programs, serve diverse populations, collaborate with multiple partners and be the institution to test new theories and strategies for improving higher education.
Our location in the Eastern Upper Peninsula with its pristine natural beauty, a stone’s throw from the bridge to Canada, the largest percentage of Native American students among Michigan’s public universities are distinct strengths. LSSU can and should be a driver of economic development and cultural vibrancy consistent with our mission and founding slogan, “Enter to Learn; Go forth to Serve.”
Lake State has already begun to address the four macro-trends highlighted by our Governor and has plans to expand and enhance these initiatives.
- Our admissions strategy focuses on expanding out-of-state and Canadian recruitment in marquee programs like robotics, fisheries and wildlife management, parks and recreation, forensic chemistry and fire science.
- Our recently approved Eastern Upper Peninsula Early College partnership with our local districts provides increased college access for Native American and first generation, rural students across our region. Through blended, online and in-class learning, high school students will have the opportunity to earn up to an associate’s degree, while also completing their high school diploma.
- Inspired by Governor Snyder’s speech, our Engineering Department is designing a five-month certificate program in Industrial Robotics to attract international and out-of-state students to prepare them for Michigan’s World Class robotics industries.
- LSSU faculty are generating courses in natural resources, environmental science, conservation management and aquaculture that address issues affecting our unique location at the intersection of three of the Great Lakes and expand the impact of our new Center for Freshwater Research and Education. The Simulation Center supporting our Nursing Program provides collaborative services to War Memorial Hospital, and also to nursing homes and memory care facilities with a special focus on dementia and Alzheimer’s patients.
At Lake Superior State University, we don’t have all the answers. However, we do have a passion for our region and its people. Like Plato, we believe “necessity is the mother of invention,” equipping LSSU to serve as a prototype for the future of small and mid-sized regional public universities. We also have the confidence and force of will to be a beta test site for the four macro-trends identified by our Governor.
Yoopers are resilient, determined, clever, and not afraid to work a little harder for what we want and need. Higher education will need this spirit and grit to thrive in the future. We welcome advice and invite our Governor, legislature, fellow public universities, and thought leaders to share your ideas and expertise at www.lssu.edu/prototype.
We’re Lakers who enter to learn and go forth to serve!
Dr. Peter T. Mitchell was appointed President of Lake Superior State University on July 1, 2017.