February 19, 2019

KCC president meets with community members on future of West Branch campus

Also discusses moving classes, services from Roscommon campus to Grayling

Posted

WEST BRANCH — If Kirtland Community College is unable to come up with a use for its West Branch campus it will be sold.

That was the message from KCC President Tom Quinn at a small meeting with community members at the facility Tuesday, Jan. 22.

“We need some solutions in this, because otherwise we’re going to sell this,” Quinn told the five in attendance. “Then the community will lose the educational value.”

The campus, which essentially sits vacant now, was in use by the college for two years. The first semester classes were offered on the campus was in fall 2015, when KCC advertised 14 classes. Only eight of those were actually held at the facility because of enrollment. In winter 2016, nine classes were offered and all nine were held. In fall 2016, 11 classes were offered and five ran. The final semester was winter 2017, when eight classes were offered, but only five ran.

Quinn said in the two-year period, the college lost $43,241 including only revenues and faculty costs for the West Branch location. He said that doesn’t include the cost to maintain the facility, such as heat, water, electricity and more.

The meeting was held to “help identify new and alternate uses” for the West Branch campus, according to a letter sent out by the college. According to KCC Director of Public Information Sarah Holecheck, the letter was sent to city council members.

“Please feel free to bring a friend, neighbor or interested party,” the letter reads.

West Branch City Councilwoman Cathy Zimmerman presented the letter at the city’s Jan. 21 meeting, and the city put a copy of the letter on its Facebook page Tuesday afternoon.

The meeting began with a briefing by Quinn on the college, which he said has been changing.

“A lot of people have difficulty with Kirtland because Kirtland is not the same anymore,” Quinn said. “It’s much, much, much different than it ever has been.”

Quinn said when he became president at KCC, around 80 percent of students planned to transfer to a university.

“It’s exactly opposite now,” he said. “About 80 percent want technical education.”

Quinn said the college is working to expand its shop space to accommodate those students.

“The Roscommon campus has three shops, 208,000 square feet,” Quinn said. “The new addition over there that the state is helping fund in the Grayling campus, that’s got four shops in that, just in the addition. So we look at it, how do we provide practical work skills for people and get them so that they can go into the workforce and hit the ground running?”

He said he believes the college is successful with that.

“My belief system is that we have — we don’t know because students won’t answer the surveys — that we have 100 percent employment rate,” Quinn said. “In the Gaylord location — we can’t call it a campus, it’s a location officially — in the Gaylord location, it’s curious because I asked one of the counselors up there, I said, ‘What kind of job placement rates do you think we have?’ And she looked at me kind of strange. … She said, ‘Tom, they already had jobs when they came here.’ Because apprenticeship programs are really big with the college already.”

Quinn said the college also offers a number of online courses, which he said amount to around 34 percent of its revenues.

“What does that mean?” he asked. “We need less facilities. We offer now a full general education program … fully online. By the way, no textbooks. Because it’s all in the digital world now.”

Quinn went on to say that a population base of around 91,000 people in the KCC district spread across 48 townships and 42 ZIP codes, and the fact that the population in this area is also getting older, creates a challenge for the college as well. Enrollment at the college has dropped 25 percent in the last 10 years.

“I don’t talk about headcount, I want billable hours, what we bill the students for,” Quinn said. “And billable hours have dropped about 25 percent in the last 10 years. So we’ve trimmed off about a third of our workforce, full-time. Because we have to keep a balanced budget and keep things going the right way, and keep the costs low for students. And we have been successful, because we have ranked in the top 100 in the nation for the lowest net cost to students.”

He talked a little about the Roscommon campus and some of the changes that have been made there.

“This is kind of dangerous to talk about because it’s tough,” Quinn said. “It’s really tough. It’s hard for me too, because I’m somewhat of an emotional character. I like to see things stay the same. But we can’t do it. We can’t do it and effectively use the public’s tax dollars. So what do we do?”

Quinn said the college has consolidated things and eliminated them if they were not needed.

“We got rid of a parking lot at the Roscommon campus,” he said. “I took some heat about that. We actually got rid of the entryways to the campus. We didn’t need four. We only needed, really, two. So we got rid of some. Rather than spend $150,000 to $250,000 on fixing up the entryways, just what do we do? We lifted them up and crushed them and we turned them into a driving range for a truck driving program. We recycled the asphalt, planted trees in the spot.”

“And some people drive by and they say, ‘Oh my God, you’re closing this up,’” Quinn continued. “Yeah, we are. We’re changing things. We reduce what we don’t need as much of as what we have in the past.”

During the college’s January meeting, the board of trustees voted to move the college’s mailing address from the Roscommon campus to Grayling.

“The address change is in accordance with a recommendation from the Higher Learning Commission, which is our accrediting agency,” Holecheck said in an email to the Herald.

Despite that change, Holecheck said several programs and departments remain at the Roscommon campus. Those include maintenance services, print shop services, two art programs, criminal justice, the Kirtland Regional Police Academy, cosmetology, general education prerequisites for transfer degrees, COOR high school programs and the Tri-Area Trucking School.

As for the West Branch campus, Quinn said it was part of a strategy that would place a campus at both the north and south ends of the KCC district — Grayling to the north and West Branch to the south.

“I looked for two years for this facility and we had to remodel it,” Quinn said. “And it’s expensive, because we tried to do it right.”

He said the college wanted to provide an option for high school kids to take courses at the location, and the building allows for expansion that would triple its size if needed.

He said some of the bigger universities won’t allow credits to transfer if they were earned at a high school and not a college campus.

“We wanted to have the students come here and mix in with the citizen population to create a more collegiate environment here,” he said. “We’ve struggled with that.”

“We don’t have the enrollment,” Quinn said. “We’re stuck. Here’s the question, anybody got any ideas? Otherwise, if you go back to our model, what do we do? We sell this place. We can buy something else back, if the need would come about. But right now, it’s here.”

While most of those in attendance seemed to agree that it was important to find some use for the campus, there wasn’t much in the way of ideas. The most agreed-upon idea was to speak with administration at West Branch-Rose City Schools to encourage some sort of partnership with the college at the building.

However, WB-RC Superintendent Phil Mikulski said he had discussions last year with college officials about using that building, but they didn’t pan out.

“We had a discussion back in December about potential use of that building,” Mikulski told the Herald. “But it was just an initial conversation and it didn’t go any further.”

As for whether the district would partner with KCC on something, Mikulski didn’t rule it out, but he said it would have to be pretty specific.

“It would have to be a very unique partnership with us, combining college opportunities, career tech opportunities, for something to be viable for us,” he said.

Other ideas from the meeting included short, abbreviated courses, adult enrichment classes and a lineman program for Consumers Energy. There was no word what the next step would be, nor what the deadline is for finding a use for the building. No future meeting was scheduled.

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