Shared Facilities: Working out the Kinks

In June 2004, Michigan’s Governor Jennifer M. Granholm created the Lt. Governor's Commission on Higher Education and Economic Growth, chaired by Lt. Governor John D. Cherry, Jr. Affectionately known as the Cherry Commission, the group was charged with devising a plan to double the number of Michigan residents with a college degree or other valuable credential.

One idea that arose from the commission is to increase student access and seamless transfer from a community college to a four-year university. Administrators at Lansing Community College (LCC) were willing to explore the option further.

What was developed was University Center at LCC, which began operating in January. “The idea behind University Center,” explained Stephanie Shanblatt, Ph.D., chief operating officer of the University Center and Strategic Learning Partnership Division, “is that bachelor’s degree completion programs are offered right on the community college campus.” In addition to baccalaureate programs, post-baccalaureate certificates and master’s degrees are available.

The program offers seamless transfer, and sometimes a baccalaureate can be finished in as little as a year. “We have matriculations with all our partners,” notes Shanblatt, “and some programs allow students to transfer 90 to 100 credit hours.”
There are a number of benefits. “For adult learners with families and full-time jobs, it’s impossible to move an hour or two to a university town to finish a baccalaureate degree,” said Shanblatt. “This allows them to further their education while staying in the Lansing area.”

Also, parents of traditional students may find the program financially appealing in that their students can live at home and complete their education.

Of course, coming up with an idea and implementing it are two different things. In order to get the program up and running, there were two major functions that needed to be resolved: partners, and a facility in which to house them.

Partners in Progress
Each partner and its programs were chosen through an RFP process (begun in the fall of 2005) that asked for a lot of data, including labor projection, in order to offer programs that fill a current or anticipated need. “At the end of the day, the driver is economic development,” said Shanblatt. “We do want people to be educated, but we also want to offer programs where students are ready to go to work immediately upon completion, so a lot of the programs are in areas like business administration, computer science, and healthcare.”

Right now, University Center has six partners, and three more can be accommodated. Each partner is offering anywhere from three to 10 degree programs. “We want to grow slowly enough to make sure all the programs that current partners have remain viable,” Shanblatt said.

To that end, a specific program can only be offered by one partner. “We don’t want two schools competing and then neither getting enough students to offer a program,” Shanblatt explained. “It also creates a more collaborative and collegial environment in that the partners work better together when they know they’re not competing. For example, if a student wants a program that one partner doesn’t offer, a representative will walk that student down the hall to the partner that does.”

Partners have an open-ended contract in that they just need to provide University Center a one-semester notice if they want to withdraw. In addition, recognizing that the economy and needs will change through time, administrators created a yearly program review in which partners may add or drop programs.

When it came to working out the details, there were a number of operational challenges to work through. For example, University Center students are not LCC students. Without their being in the Student Information System (SIS), how would they get access to computer, printing, and library resources on campus?

Another operational issue was budgeting — what would LCC pay for and what would they charge back to the partners? “Partners needed to know how to budget and what to expect,” said Shanblatt. “They needed for there to be no surprises.”

Both of these issues and more were worked out via monthly meetings in the time leading up to University Center’s start date.

A Place to Call Home
University Center launched in a facility on the LCC campus that was renovated and added on to with the intent of creating space specifically for baccalaureate students. “It is a university-quality building that boasts advanced learning spaces,” described Jeff Sharpe, AIA, design principal with the Austin office of SHW Group, which designed the facility. “The notion is that, when a student arrives at this building, it feels like a gateway to a new future.”

Specifically, an original Carnegie library, built at the turn of the century and under-utilized on the LCC campus, was chosen to house University Center.

The 15,000-sq.-ft. historical rehabilitation included reconfiguring room layouts to accommodate classrooms and faculty space, tuckpointing, exfoliating the limestone stairs, and more. “We followed the U.S. Department of Interior’s Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings,” offered Chris Strugar-Fritsch, executive director of LCC’s Administrative Services Division. He notes that a renovation was chosen over a restoration in order for the facility to function as desired.

The 23,000-sq.-ft., copper-clad addition has a transparent connection in order to not detract from the Carnegie library’s architecture. Yet, it also incorporates copper panels to create a connection to the library. At the heart of the new facility is a transfer center surrounded by office space for University partners, state-of-the-art classrooms, and student commons for collaboration and integration into the fabric of LCC’s main campus.

It works. “Here is this wonderful, 100-year-old building whose mission is to be about the future,” explained Sharpe. “This contrast is set right at LCC’s front door, creating a gateway. As soon as they enter the building, students know they’re in a different place.” And, there’s a bonus: the facility can be added on to as University Center grows.

The state agreed to pay $5M of the $11M project, and the timeline moved along quickly, noted Strugar-Fritsch. In June 2005, an architect was hired for programming and conceptual estimating. Construction began in September 2006, and finished in October 2007.

With more than 1,200 enrollments and more than 65 classes offered this first semester, the University Center at LCC is off to a strong start in satisfying the Cherry Commission’s plans.