By purchasing the Oakwood Village Apartments on Marquette Avenue, Baker College immediately addresses a pressing need by more than tripling its student housing.
In broader terms, the acquisition takes the question of student-housing capacity off the plate for Baker College administrators for the near term and can help to sustain the annual growth rate of 20 percent the career college has experienced since the mid-1990s.
In the last two years, Baker College of Muskegon has had to turn away 100 students each autumn who are from out of town and wanted to live on or near campus. The college did not have the capacity to accommodate those requests, President Rick Amidon said.
“It’s been no secret over the years the college has struggled with accommodating students,” Amidon said. “It has been a challenge keeping up with our popularity and our growth.”
The acquisition will cost the college about $6 million, a total that includes the purchase price and planned improvements at the housing complex.
It negates the need for construction of a new student-housing complex that the college was previously planning.
The acquisition came about after the complex’s owner approached the college, Amidon said.
“This has clearly been on the radar screen a long time,” he said. “This was a deal that made sense for everybody. It’s ready now.”
The complex has been renamed Baker Townhouses.
The purchase of the apartment/townhouse complex, which will provide housing for up to 550 students, is the most recent in a series of major capital investments Baker College has made in Muskegon.
The institution has had to keep up with student enrollments that have nearly tripled in eight years.
Since moving to its campus on Quarterline Road in Muskegon Township, Baker College of Muskegon’s enrollment has grown from 1,482 in the fall of 1995 to 4,076 in the fall of 2003.
Amidon anticipates enrollments surpassing 5,000 students by fall of 2005, if not before.
The rapid enrollment growth has Baker College constantly planning new construction and upgrades.
In the past year, the college built and opened a new $250,000 academic wing for its interior design and early-childhood education program, a $300,000 computer lab and an $800,000 student center and café.
With the Baker Townhouses acquisition, the college “will probably take a year off” from any further major capital projects, Amidon said.
By adding the townhouse complex, the college will be able to house 800 students on or near campus. Planned improvements at Baker Townhouses by this fall include creating a learning center and computer lab, free high-speed Internet access and a future fitness center.
The acquisition of the 20-acre site includes three to four acres that Baker College could use in the future to build additional student housing as enrollments continue growing, Amidon said.
“It’s possible we would put some more townhouses there,” he said. “If we don’t go there, we will have to go somewhere else.”
Beyond the issue of providing additional student housing, the acquisition pushes Baker College to become more of an economic force in Muskegon. By accommodating hundreds of out-of-town students that the college has previously been unable to serve, Baker College is bringing in their buyer power as well, said Gary Ostrum, chairman of the college’s board of regents.
“We’re importing money into the community,” Ostrum said.
Baker College of Muskegon draws students from 15 states. Many of them come for the unique academic programs Baker offers, such as culinary arts and veterinary technician.
Baker College of Muskegon is the third largest campus in the 29,000-student, 12-campus Baker College system, the largest private college in Michigan.