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Sunday, 08 June 2014 22:00

Ferris State University President David Eisler

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FSU President David Eisler FSU President David Eisler COURTESY PHOTO

The new strategic plan Ferris State University adopted in May builds off a vision that’s guided the school since 2008.

Essential pieces of the new plan — and the former plan — are the university’s six core values of collaboration, diversity, ethical community, excellence, learning and opportunity, said President David Eisler, who begins his 12th year in July.

The Big Rapids-based Ferris State also maintains a campus in downtown Grand Rapids, where third-year pharmacy students are based. Grand Rapids is also home to Ferris’ Kendall College of Art and Design, one of the largest design schools in the state. Additionally, the university partners with 19 community colleges around the state to provide classes for undergraduate degrees.

Eisler spoke with MiBiz about Ferris’ strategic planning process and how it relates to students.

What’s the vision for Ferris State for the next five years?

To be an innovative, career-oriented and student-focused university that meets the educational needs of our citizens, region and state. This plan literally is called ‘living our values’ and it’s constructed around the six values of our institution.

When you think about what you’re trying to become, you start with who you are. When you think about Ferris, what we do is we provide a high-quality education. In providing a high-quality education, we try to prepare students for careers, so we think of our students as being career-ready. We look at specific areas of educational needs out there, and we try to fill that need.

How does this strategic plan differ from what Ferris has done in the past?

When we developed it, we had many conversations on our campus and we went out and had events and listened to our stakeholders. We did this in Grand Rapids, we did this in Lansing, and we did this in Big Rapids. The biggest takeaway from that was that people said, ‘We love your plan and we love where you’re headed, but we think you need to focus more on your students.’ That was kind of an interesting piece.

How did that affect the plan?

(I)n each strategic area of focus, we talk about how this relates to our students. We’re really specific about what we’re doing globally and about preparing students for a global marketplace, and about how we are attracting students and preparing students in a culturally diverse learning community. At the core of our strategic plan is a deliberate intent to make a significant difference in terms of student debt. This is the first strategic plan that I’ve seen where we put a commitment to lifelong learning.

What else emerged from the dialogue with the community?

One of the things we learned in our conversations is that our alumni wanted to be more actively engaged with the university. That was a strong piece that we heard over and over.

Where will this new strategic plan take Ferris State?

We’re doing this in a context where the number of high school graduates started declining in 2009 and the continued decline goes through 2022. So it looks at how do we expand the student base that we are pulling from, and (it) looks at the changing demographics in Michigan, especially in West Michigan, where our student body is increasingly more diverse. How do we reach out to the growing number of Hispanic students that graduate from Michigan high schools? We look at changing demographics, we look at a global environment, and we look at an institution that prepares people for careers.

What are some of the new programs coming to Ferris in the years ahead?

(T)his year, we looked at the needs that were out there in terms of public health and we developed a bachelor’s of public health degree, and we’re going to layer on top of that a master’s of public health degree. Those are new degrees that we just began this year and will start offering the bachelor’s in the fall. We’re looking at programs we’re doing in engineering and technology. Our welding program is expanding, and we’re creating new degrees in advanced manufacturing. In our business college, … we’ve gone back and now have an insurance degree. It’s something we used to do in the past and we saw a need to graduate students for a specialty in insurance. In the fall, we’re starting a master’s of social work degree and we’re going to be offering that in Big Rapids and Traverse City.

What kind of capital projects are you looking at?

We’re just finishing up our new university student center. Our present student center was built in 1957 when we were 2,300 students. That project will be finished in January and it’s a $35 million project that’s self-funded. We have a significant expansion of our welding program (planned). That will allows us to double the size of our welding engineering technology program. We have one of the top three information security and intelligence programs in the country. It’s a program we started maybe four or five years ago. We’re really looking for how we build space for our digital forensics programs that we offer both here (in Big Rapids) and Grand Rapids.

What’s your future with the university?

I have a five-year contract (that was just renewed) and those are conversations that I frequently have with our trustees. I have a great willingness to continue at Ferris and I have no plans to retire.

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