Published in Economic Development
Bill Pink, incoming president of Ferris State University Bill Pink, incoming president of Ferris State University

New Ferris State president confronts declining enrollment, post-pandemic opportunities

BY Sunday, April 10, 2022 06:26pm

A Q&A with Bill Pink, incoming president of Ferris State University

Ferris State University recently tapped Bill Pink as its new president after he served in the same role at Grand Rapids Community College since 2017. Pink starts the position in June after being selected over 70 other applicants. He brings to the new role a firm grasp on the state’s economic needs based in part on his active roles in multiple regional and statewide economic development organizations. Pink recently shared his vision for leading Big Rapids-based Ferris State, including overcoming recent enrollment declines and seizing partnerships after a recent $115 million capital campaign.

Why did this position seem like the appropriate next step in your career?

I have been very focused in my life on community and technical colleges, focused on what kind of opportunities our students have when it comes to transferring to the next institution. What does that look like? I’ve been so focused on that for really the last 10 years, and I wanted to now go to the side of the four-year institution and continue to not only smooth out those pathways but also add to those opportunities. To me, that’s really exciting work.

Does staying within West Michigan make for a more seamless transition as you already have your finger on the pulse of the state’s talent needs?

That was part of the impetus for even dropping my name in the hat. It was because of having been here at GRCC and having Ferris State right on our campus and having that relationship already with Ferris State. Then you talk about the relationships I’ve been able to gain in West Michigan, period, whether it be with our nonprofit community, our industry community and even our other universities and K-12 institutions. All of those things, I think, played strongly into my decision to say, ‘You know what, this could be a very good next step.’

You’re on the board of organizations such as the Michigan Economic Development Corp., The Right Place Inc., and Lakeshore Advantage Corp. How crucial are those connections when it comes to leading Ferris State?

Those connections are going to be so vital to the work I believe can be done at Ferris State. This automatically puts Ferris State into those conversations … and I want to be a part of an institution that is in that room and has someone at the table that is helping with thought leading and making decisions. It puts Ferris State in those rooms, and I think that’s a good place to be.

Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic with widespread workforce shortages, has talent development ever been this front and center before?

Oh, gosh. That’s spot on. What’s nice is that our economic numbers show that Michigan has really weathered and survived this pandemic better than others. But what it means now is that we have to get to work.

Our companies and industries, we’ve got to help them in getting their traction back and their footing back under them. I believe that’s the work of community colleges and four-year institutions — that we partner together with each other and those industry partners to say, ‘How do we get this done?’

How do you plan to address steadily declining enrollment at Ferris State, especially coming out of the pandemic where many people are second-guessing the value of higher education?

In coming into post-pandemic in West Michigan and central Michigan, now it’s time from an enrollment perspective to start looking at those focus areas that we can really put our finger on when it comes to, not only the 18-year-old traditional student, but also what we call the neo-traditional student. This is the older student who is really thinking about what they need to do. Do they need a new career or to just get out of some of the things they’re doing now? You see some of the data across our state that really look at how many individuals have some or no college. … I think we as a university are going to need to have a focus on that population in and around our campus in our community.

Ferris State recently completed a capital campaign that raised more than its $115 million goal. What opportunities does that present?

I’m a believer that, in areas where you have success, you have to make sure that you’re revisiting the success, find out what it was and then push more and capitalize. When you come out of a successful capital campaign, it tells you several things. It’s telling you that your stakeholders have faith in you and want to support and help you, so you continue to build these relationships. I love that because that, to me, lays such a strong groundwork for what capital efforts will look like in the future.

You have a playbook and a Rolodex, if you will, of individuals, companies and organizations who are coming alongside Ferris State saying, ‘I want to be a part of it.’ Those are people I will be talking to face-to-face or virtually to say thank you and talk about how we partner next.

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