Much has been written about the future role of the traditional university. Recently I was invited to present on “Keeping Traditional Higher Education a Dominant Force” in times of greater competition and changing demographics of the population.
Especially in the traditional higher education model, the need to adapt to the future pressures of competition and demographics will be necessary for survival of many small private colleges and numerous public institutions. Such is the case at Bowling Green State University in northwest Ohio, which has seen declines particularly in the traditional-age student population in recent years.
Bowling Green has almost 19,000 students on two campuses, and about 85 percent of those students come from Ohio.
Since 2011, we have placed a major emphasis on cultivating partnerships both within the university and elsewhere. These partnerships and collaborative efforts have proven crucial to implementing our strategic vision that emphasizes quality education at an affordable price.
After an extensive review, we have found ways to stay true to our core mission while operating more efficiently. By focusing on partnerships with outside entities, we have changed the campus and provided new facilities and opportunities for new academic programs.
When I arrived on campus in 2011, for example, the student health center was housed in an academic building where the space was needed for the university’s most rapidly growing programs. We did not have the funds to build a new health center.
We did a request for proposals and partnered with the local hospital. We leased university property to the hospital. The hospital then built a 10,000-square-foot building for a new campus health center. We outsourced our health service to them, which allowed us to save enough in our student fee budget to undertake a needed renovation to the campus recreational center.
The new health center and the newly renovated recreational center were opened within a three-year period.
Accomplishing these two major projects with no additional fees for the students was a remarkable credit to the campus.
A second major facility that could propel the university’s national reputation is our forensic science laboratory, built in partnership with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. This $14 million project, which opened in the fall of 2014, makes the university one of only four campuses in the country with a crime lab.
The university plans to establish undergraduate and graduate academic programming related to the work at the lab. The facility gives us access to the expertise of the employees for adjunct appointments, and offers students significant lab experience. This partnership is unique in the state of Ohio, and the university is already experiencing interest in the academic programming. This gives us a highly visible, high-demand applied science program.
Aviation program takes off
A third partnership is with North Star Aviation, which bid on a request to outsource our flight school. With the projected future need for pilots, our plans are to recruit both domestic and international students.
North Star Aviation has purchased and refurbished our planes, provided a new flight simulator for the students, and is building an 8,800-square-foot hanger/classroom building. This allows us to be one of two universities in the country with an airport on our campus and academic programming for future pilots.
All three of these partnerships enhance BGSU’s programming and reputation, and they allow us to stay true to our core mission while at the same time operating more efficiently. BGSU is committed to developing more partnerships. They show that higher education can change and have a positive impact on the current and future student body.
Mary Ellen Mazey is president of Bowling Green State University.