GRAND RAPIDS — Acting on its traditional philosophy that everyone deserves a chance, Davenport University is currently undertaking a large repositioning to give everyone just that.
As president of Davenport for the last two years, Randy Flechsig knows the importance of being given a chance first hand. As someone who was given that chance in the form of an education, Flechsig has climbed to the top of the largest independent college in the state.
Flechsig came to Davenport with an understanding of its long history since its beginning as Grand Rapids Business College in 1866. Over the years, the Davenport branched and grew, and now comprises 24 sites with three separate colleges: the Detroit College of Business, Davenport College and Great Lakes Junior College.
Serving 15,000 students is a monumental task, but Flechsig believe that after a period of refinement, that service now better is simpler and better.
He explained that the three colleges — although technically part of the larger picture — all operated with different curriculums, different marking periods and different faculty, making it difficult to operate a single entity.
Flechsig said he and his team decided to first tackle the curriculum issues.
He explained it this way:
“If you wanted to take an accounting class here at Davenport and then move over to Detroit, you could say, ‘Well, I’m taking accounting. I’m halfway through the course. I need to finish it up. Just tell me when to show up.’ And they would say, ‘Well, no, you can’t. It’s not the same course.’”
What he said he learned was that the three colleges had 18 different accounting courses — plus duplication in numerous other offerings — along with three different academic calendars and three different grading systems.
“We believed that having separate institutions isn’t the answer, isn’t our future,” Flechsig noted.
So to complete the enormous undertaking of moving towards a single curriculum, Flechsig began by moving to a single governing body. The governing body, in turn, took all 1,800 courses and kept the ones that would ultimately serve the entire university.
The institution now has boiled its curriculum down to 500 courses.
Thirdly, Flechsig said there had to be a unification in operating procedures.
For example, he said, working in the marketing department used to mean moving between several different department operations but now has been aligned with at least a semblance of rationality. Other movements towards unification in operations continued with computer systems, customer service and a quality guarantee.
“This year was the first time at Davenport that we bought all of our PCs from one vendor,” Flechsig said.
“Which means that we not only have a constant, but we save a lot of money in that unification and we have the unification of how we lead, govern the curriculum and the standard of operating systems.”
Flechsig feels the unified university serves its students better in that they now receive the same level of quality and best practices university-wide.
“Davenport is changing how we do things, but Davenport isn’t changing. What’s in our hearts and minds isn’t changing,” said Flechsig. “The question is then how do we preserve what is in our hearts and minds for the future.”
That focus, he said, is why Davenport decided to go with a new marketing campaign called “Understanding U,” with ads entitled, “Reinvent U.” He stresses that the 136-year-old university is not breaking new ground, but continuing to do what it always has — while reinventing and rediscovering and sometimes doing it in a different way.
“Not only are we reinventing the university, but if you think about it we are reinventing lives,” said Flechsig. “The notion is we are reinventing the university so we can reinvent lives and do our jobs, giving them a chance to reinvent themselves.”
And Flechsig feels the need for personal reinvention is more pressing than ever. He notes that only 30 percent of Michigan’s adults have an associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degree and yet 65 percent of all jobs require higher education.
He said that in his view, this stresses the importance of making higher education as available as possible to everyone who needs it.
And with the unification process and the reinvention of Davenport, Flechsig sees the university continuing to fill its niche of catering to the nontraditional student and putting students into the job market.
“This is also going to broaden us. We are going to be a lot more successful in the marketplace and broaden the employment options for our students,” said Flechsig.
“And looking at Davenport in a oneness can only help us succeed and bring us into the future.”