After 15 years away from Baker College of Muskegon, Dr. Aaron Maike has returned to campus, taking over duties as president in the market. Maike, who’s been with Baker College for two decades, most recently served as president of the Owosso campus, where he’s been since 2014. In Muskegon, he replaces Lee Coggin, who retired earlier this month. Maike’s educational background includes a bachelor of science in accounting from Northern Michigan University, an MBA in finance from Baker College, and a doctorate in business administration from Trident University International. Maike spoke with MiBiz about his journey back to West Michigan and his confidence in Baker College’s future.
What drew you back to Muskegon for Baker College?
The system CEO came to me and asked if I’d be willing to relocate to the Muskegon campus because of my ties back here and working on this campus some 15 years ago. Really, that’s why I came back. Additionally, I am not from the West Michigan area, but my wife is. I met her when I was here working at Baker College, so we have some family ties here. She’s from Grandville. She’s a graduate of Grand Valley State University, and most of her family is in the greater Grand Rapids area.
As a business-focused institution of higher learning, what are some best practices Baker College uses to bridge the gap between the academic world and the corporate world?
Baker for a long time has had a career services department, where our students are required to do internships and externships, but they also actively engage business leaders in building partnerships. Really, these partnerships are two ways: We have advisory boards, (and) business leaders provide us with knowledge (about the) skills they need our graduates to have. We adjust our curriculum to ensure our students are the best qualified candidates based on their needs. … We use a software program called Handshake. Really, it’s an online tool that employers can use to access all Baker College (students and) graduates across the state.
When Baker College opened the $8 million Health Sciences Center in Muskegon in 2014, about 40 percent of students were enrolled in a health program. Has that changed?
A little bit. The health sciences is still a strong enrollment area for Baker College. However, our program portfolio is becoming balanced based on potential students and what they hear about the different skills needed in business, in I.T., in criminal justice and multiple areas. We do see our program still heavily focused on health, but we see a balancing a bit based on those other perspectives.
Where do you see the growth for the health program given the expanded options on the lakeshore with the entry of Spectrum Health and the growth of Mercy Health?
We often pigeonholed ourselves into thinking of those organizations only as providing health care. I.T. is a driving force in health care; sharing data across health organizations with different platforms is critical to public health initiatives. (Health organizations) have I.T. managers, they have I.T. providers, they have accountants, so really we are looking at those organizations differently, and not pigeonholing ourselves to a superficial look at those organizations.
How is the Muskegon campus bracing for the demographic trend of fewer college-aged students in the years ahead?
It’s tough, right? The number of high school graduates in Michigan and in the Midwest is shrinking. Competition is really tough. If you’re in Detroit, you see billboards for (Grand Valley State University), and you see Wayne State billboards on this side of the state. The marketing has really amped up in higher education. We have strong path rates in our programs that meet or exceed state or national averages. … We are reasonably priced — our four-year degree is one of the most reasonably priced four-year degrees in the state.
How will the Culinary Institute of Michigan (CIM) continue to play a role at Baker, especially given the resurgence of restaurants and food options in downtown Muskegon and elsewhere around West Michigan?
Chef Tom (Recinella) is absolutely amazing. Our CIM underneath his leadership has been one of the best-kept secrets. He’s going to bring it to great recognition, more than it already has. His talents and the chefs who are there are producing excellent graduates. … We really have an amazing group of instructors at the CIM. … The CIM is only one of two branded programs at Baker College, so we have the CIM and Auto Diesel Institute, and that program is in Owosso — the one that I am leaving.
Where does Baker see opportunities for growth in Muskegon?
We have talked about a few already, but the CIM is a great opportunity that we need to continue to leverage. The fact that I kept saying this is the best-kept secret in Michigan — that needs to be on a billboard, right? We are going to keep working in health care and I.T., and I think those are where we are going to continue to grow.
As you head into this role, what keeps you up at night?
Honestly, nothing. I am really confident with the team we have in Muskegon and across the Baker College system. We have such a tremendous support structure that I don’t have a lot that keeps me up at night.