Mid Michigan College: Bringing education and communities togetherProviding affordable, accessible, and diverse educational opportunities throughout Michigan

With campuses in Harrison and Mt. Pleasant—along with numerous virtual and off-campus offerings—Mid Michigan College personifies the phrase ‘something for everyone.’

“We are rooted in our community,” says Dr. Scott Mertes, Mid Michigan College’s provost. “That's really what a community college is. So, we have a mission to not only service our communities, but act as a resource and bring people together in our communities.”

And bringing people together is what they do. 

For example, Mid Michigan College offers opportunities in the form of book clubs and workshops about Medicare, self-help, art, cake decorating, welding, dog training, and more. The Harrison campus has walking and biking trails and a disc golf course open to the public. Senior citizens have access to scholarships for taking college classes. There are professional development workshops and job training programs. There are also a number of events and projects for community members to enjoy.

Plus, so much more.

But the heart of what the college—often affectionately referred to simply as “Mid”—is all about, is bringing accessibility to education to the communities it serves.

“We definitely are really attached to our mission, which is to enable learners and transform communities,” Mertes adds. “We feel like we have a very close tie to our community to try to address local needs.”

One of the ways those needs are addressed is through dual-enrollment opportunities for high school students in districts around the state.

“It's really designed to help students transition from high school to college,” explains Dr. Richard Smith, associate dean of off-campus instruction. “We offer a lot of courses that are at high school locations, Intermediate School Districts, or Regional Educational Service-area locations.” 

“Our board had made a very conscious decision to reach out to areas within the state of Michigan that are not covered by a community college,” Mertes says, noting that in many cases, students in those communities would have to leave the area in order to access higher education. “It's important for our students that they have affordable access in their communities, and it's important to our state.”

“We're now up to 18 locations where we offer off-campus courses,” Mertes adds. “We offer online courses to students in Newberry in the U.P., (face-to-face courses) all the way down to St. Johns, all the way west to Big Rapids and all the way east to Caro, Marlette, and Bad Axe.”

(Infographic courtesy of Mid Michigan College)Mid Michigan College president, Tim Hood, says the college had a higher number of dual-enrolled students this year than ever before, helping students prepare for their future, whether that includes a higher education degree or vocational training.

“The lines of delineation between high school, community college, university, four-year education—those lines are beginning to become less of barriers,” Hood says. “We can begin students at earlier ages on career pathways and become catalysts for things that they become excited and passionate about and that they take the right courses for.”

“And then you get employers involved with that natural sequence of progression, and you start including things like internships and apprenticeships,” Hood adds. “Mid will be partnering not only with our dual-enrollment institutions, but also business and industry to help us make sure that we're teaching and delivering instruction and providing curricula that are changing as their needs change.” 

Mid’s “academic pathways” are a big part of making sure that students are prepared for the ever-changing workplace, whether they are dual-enrolled students, recent high school graduates, or non-traditional students returning to the classroom to learn new skills.

“A lot of that can sometimes be really challenging for students to try to figure out—what courses do I need to take and when? How does that count towards my degree?” Smith explains. “The pathways were designed to simplify that whole process for students. The pathway specifies: Okay, these are the courses that they need to take each semester.”

In fact, Mid offers over 80 pathways that are designed to guide students of all ages to associate degrees, training credentials, and certificates. Pathways include arts and communication, math and science, business and technology, health sciences, skilled trades, and more. The pathways also ensure that student credits will transfer to other institutions.

“Transferability of courses is a huge thing for students,” Smith says, also noting that smaller class sizes are another advantage.

President Hood says he believes the college’s staff and faculty are another valuable resource for its community of students.

“Our people make the difference,” he says.

One of those people is Kelley Eltzroth, professor of psychology, just finishing up her 21st year with Mid Michigan College.

“I love the interaction with the students,” Eltzroth says with a smile. “I love trying to come up with new ideas to keep things fresh for me and engaging for students.”

Students listen to a lecture at Mid Michigan College. (Photo courtesy of Mid Michigan College)Eltzroth sees students from a variety of the academic pathways in her psychology classes. 

“I think students are surprised to find that psychology isn't just about mentally ill people getting therapy. They learn about how their memory works, how to pay better attention, how to get better sleep, and how to have better study skills. It helps them understand other people better so they can improve their own relationships.”

Eltzroth refers to these as “essential life skills,” skills students learn in their classes that extend far beyond the classroom—and even beyond the college experience.

“One of the things I love about Mid is that combination of having those highly skilled training programs like welding, automotive technician, and robotics in the same institution as a liberal arts transfer degree, a science transfer degree, or nursing or business professionals,” Eltzroth says. “They aren't necessarily just getting those skilled trades. They are also being challenged to be better communicators and better thinkers. And I think that's important to have a flexible workforce that has built those essential skills into people. It's going to help you with whatever career you end up in, as well as improving your personal relationships.”

Biology faculty member Trish Finerty takes the concept of skills outside of the classroom to a different level. This summer, for example, she is taking some of her students to the Florida Keys for hands-on learning in marine science.

“We spend the day out on the boat and in the water and collecting data,” Finerty says. “They do have some traditional kind of labs and lectures and some pre-trip assignments. But for the week that we're there in Florida, that's all taught through experiential learning, collecting water quality data. We learn how to identify fish and we do surveys. So, our students get to participate in citizen science projects and share data with people all over the world.”

Students take notes during an in-class biology lab and lecture at Mid Michigan College. (Photo courtesy of Mid Michigan College)Later this summer, thanks to grants and scholarships, Finerty is also taking students to Belize for a similar learning experience. But whether traveling to Florida and Central America or teaching on campus in Harrison or Mt. Pleasant, Finerty says the students are what makes her job so special.

“One of my favorite things about community college is that our student body is so diverse in their goals,” she says. “Some students are just here because they have just graduated from high school. They don't know what they want to do. Some are re-entering college after a hiatus. We have a lot of our students who are working parents that are juggling family commitments and jobs and school and a lot of outside things going on. And so, it's a challenge to try to meet the needs of such a diverse body because they are all coming from very different backgrounds and a lot of them have different goals.”

In fact, Mid’s president, Tim Hood, says meeting the needs of the diverse student body continues to be at the heart of what the college’s future is all about as well.

“We like to say there is something for everyone here. And I envision a day when we will start doing more,” he says. “Where do I see Mid in five years? I think probably even more online than we have now, which helps us cover a much larger footprint.”

“For some, it's the only way and the preferred way,” Hood adds. “And we want to provide those students with an engaging learning experience using the latest technologies.” 

Hood says he also sees the number of face-to-face classes at a variety of locations increasing as well.

A group of students takes notes during a lecture at Mid Michigan College. (Photo courtesy of Mid Michigan College)“I think the key is doing the best that we can do with all effective modes of delivery when it comes to instruction,” Hood says. “This is a community of stakeholders that are doing this and will continue to do it. The commitment is there, the vision is there, the need is certainly there. And I feel like my part of the contribution to this is helping to create an environment where not only are we not afraid, but we actually embrace the opportunities to push forward with serving more people in more ways, making learning something that never goes out of style. To embrace lifelong learning which in turn enhances the workforce, the quality of life in Michigan—giving more people more reasons to stay here, to work here, in many cases, to want to come back here.”

“I like to say community colleges are kind of the personification of the American dream,” Mertes adds. “You come in and work towards achieving whatever goals that you have.”

“We are an open-door institution,” he concludes. “Whether you're coming right out of high school or whether you're looking for a fresh start.  We welcome people with open arms. That's who we are.” 

Summer classes at Mid Michigan College begin on May 22. Learn more about the variety of opportunities available by visiting www.midmich.edu.
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Read more articles by Sarah R. Adams-Slominski.

Sarah R. Adams-Slominski is an award-winning multimedia producer and writer with over 20 years of experience. She has also designed and taught multimedia and communication courses for university students, as well as media relations and marketing seminars for clients she coaches across the United States. In 2020, she began work on a doctorate and is now concentrating on dissertation research in educational technology and new literacies while working as a freelance writer, editor, and adjunct college instructor. When she has some downtime, Sarah loves reading, cooking, and swimming—as well as hanging out with friends, family, and her fiancé at home with two giant cats.