GRAND RAPIDS & BIG RAPIDS — For the first time in its history, Ferris State University plans to undertake a comprehensive capital campaign with the goal of raising $80 million. The Big Rapids-based university with satellite locations around the state plans for $36 million in new scholarships for students and $44 million for the expansion of new facilities and programs as well as increasing a wide variety of community partnerships.
University President David Eisler notes that while the institution has done small, focused campaigns in the past, largely built around renovating facilities or other initiatives, it’s had to put in significant work with various stakeholders in order to begin the process of launching the comprehensive “Now & Always” campaign.
“So we’ve had campaigns that have been successful, but they've been focused,” Eisler said. “And I think this is the first time that we've looked to do a comprehensive campaign. We've had to develop an organization at Ferris that had the ability to do this. We needed to spend time with our alumni, we needed to create a network of donor support, and this is something that we candidly hadn't done in Ferris. So we've worked very intentionally to create this kind of support.”
In launching the campaign, the university hopes to double down on some of its core competencies such as engineering, manufacturing, pharmaceutical coursework and golf management, a “signature” program for the institution, Eisler said. Moreover, Eisler says Ferris State hopes to continue ramping up its programs and areas of focus to continue matching the needs of employers, particularly at a time when recent studies show skilled workers continue to be in great demand.
“We are a career orientated university, and our students graduate ready for a career, and they get great jobs, and they're successful in them,” Eisler said. “So I think that what we do at Ferris is a great fit with the economy, and the need for a skilled workforce mission, so I think that's a priority.”
That priority should come as good news to groups such as Business Leaders for Michigan, the state's business roundtable consisting of private, public and higher education executives. The Detroit-based organization released a report this week at its annual CEO Summit showing that while the state has made strides with regards to career-readiness, it’s a still got a long way to go to match more advanced states.
“Michigan was among the bottom half of states in terms of college-ready graduates and was outranked by all but three of its peer states: Alabama, Tennessee, and North Carolina,” according to the BLM report, which noted that while the number of “career and college-ready graduates” in Michigan did rise from 2015 to 2016, the state was still far behind so-called “top 10 states.” On the other hand, Ferris State's capital campaign comes at a time when college enrollment in Michigan actually far outpaces the rest of the country.
Nationwide, higher education enrollment declined 21 percent from 2011 to 2016 according to data from Arlington, Va.-based Associated General Contractors (AGC), a construction industry trade group. More locally, Michigan’s undergraduate college enrollment has fared far better, growing 7.6 percent over the same period, according to statistics from the state of Michigan, as MiBiz has previously reported.
Nonetheless, Eisler believes that Ferris State’s emphasis on careers in sectors like manufacturing and engineering—as well as niche, in-demand areas such as design at Kendall College of Art and Design which is owned by FSU—means that the university will continue to be viewed favorably by the region’s business community.
“These are firms … who employ our graduates, we’re grateful that they do,” Eisler said. “We're committed to graduating (students) who are prepared to be successful for them, and we think there's a wonderful synergetic, symbiotic relationship where with their support we can do an even better job with students. We can help more students enter the fields where they need employees.”