Enrollment Boom Prompts Building

    MUSKEGON — A 17 percent enrollment boom for the fall semester, by far the largest increase experienced in recent years, has administrators at the local campus of Baker College of Muskegon examining further facility expansions.

    New construction and renovations of existing academic classrooms and student housing to accommodate enrollment growth will cost an estimated $4 million to $6 million, Baker President Rick Amidon said.

    The new round of construction is necessitated by an enrollment increase of more than 500 students for the fall term, pushing Baker College to more than 3,400 students in Muskegon and Fremont and putting facilities at or near capacity, Amidon said.

    “It’s stretching them,” he said. “We’re to capacity, so we’re going to have to respond real quickly.”

    Amidon anticipates presenting a three-year building program to college trustees in January. He estimates that a new residence hall for students who choose to live on campus will cost $1.5 million to $2 million alone.

    Unlike many educational institutions that plan facilities several years, if not decades, into the future, Baker College undertakes projects on an as-needed basis. The private career college, which does not solicit contributions and relies on tuition payments to support operations and facility expansions, has 10 campuses in Michigan and a systemwide enrollment of more than 25,000.

    The latest round of upgrades at the Muskegon campus, where the college has nearly 50 acres of land to work with, will represent one of the largest single construction programs in some time and push capacity to 3,700 to 3,800 students, Amidon said.

    Enrollment at the Muskegon campus alone increased from 2,678 to 3,184 students for the fall term. Collectively, Baker’s enrollment in Muskegon and the Fremont extension grew 19 percent, from 2,924 to 3,422 students.

    Baker College of Muskegon’s enrollment has grown 7 percent to 8 percent annually for the past four years. Amidon expects future enrollment increases of 5 percent to 8 percent a year in the long-term. He has said in the past that he sees enrollment reaching 5,000 students by 2010.

    Amidon attributes 17 percent growth rate for the fall term to the soft economy, which has adults who are laid off or displaced from their jobs returning to school to upgrade their professional skills, and to an increased awareness of Baker College among high school students. Enrollments by those “traditional students” who come to college straight from high school to earn a two- to four-year degree are increasing at a faster rate than adult students who are already well into their careers, Amidon said.

    “They’re choosing us as their first college,” he said.

    About 150 of the 506 additional students enrolled in the fall term are directly linked to the launching this year of a bachelor’s degree in education.

    Also, the college’s comparatively low tuition rates, an emphasis on providing students career skills rather than mixing liberal arts offerings with a degree program, and a job placement guarantee after graduation all have combined to draw more people to Baker, Amidon said.

    “The bang for the buck is clearly on people’s minds today,” he said. “Clearly it’s the practical, quick, real-time training that’s appealing, and that’s our market.”

    Baker College of Muskegon’s enrollment has more than doubled since 1995 and grown by 53 percent since the college moved to its present campus in 1997 on Quarterline Road, a site that once housed a state hospital. Baker College bought the facility from the state for $1 and has since invested $13 million in renovations and new construction.

    The most recent improvements include a $400,000 kitchen for the school’s culinary arts program and a $500,000 lab for its veterinary assistant courses.           

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