The 77,000-square-foot renovated building at 200 Ionia Ave. SW, which opened April 30last year, has allowed the Kalamazoo-based school to expand its offerings and increase its enrollment here this year.
As an addition to the Graduate Center on East Beltline, which began holding classes a dozen years ago at 2333 East Beltline, the downtown building has made the public university a stronger player in the Grand Rapids higher education market.
“First, we needed the elbow room. We were totally full on the Beltline. In fact, we were overflowing on the Beltline,” said James Schultz, WMU regional director on why the university located downtown.
“Secondly, there were markets downtown that we needed to address.”
One was the Masters of Business Administration program. Schultz said WMU has moved the MBA director, Thomas Scannell, and his faculty to Ionia. They now hold half of the program’s classes there.
“That was one of the areas that we saw as being a natural for downtown,” said Schultz.
“But until we add even more classrooms downtown, we’re still going to need to have some of the MBA students take some classes at the Beltline, because it’s a large and growing program and we can’t accommodate everything downtown.”
Another area that served as a catalyst for the Ionia building, which, in turn, has served as a catalyst for the program, is the WMU counseling curriculum.
The downtown building is home to the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services, a community-based clinic where masters and doctoral students work on real cases with real clients.
“People are now able to do all of this in Grand Rapids. Before, people had to drive to Kalamazoo,” said Schultz, who marked his eighth year with WMU two weeks ago.
“We’ve been able to alleviate that travel, and that’s been great.”
Not only has the downtown center worked for the school, it has also been well received by the students.
Schultz said the clinical counseling program this summer had the largest enrollment in its 44-year history. And the same can be said for the MBA program, which also had its largest enrollment ever this summer.
“It has been a beneficial expansion for us,” said Schultz.
WMU also relocated portions of its Masters of Social Work (MSW) program downtown. The thought behind that move was that many of the area’s social agencies also have offices downtown, and the move put the students closer to that core.
“We are 96 percent graduate students here in Grand Rapids,” said Schultz.
The downtown center has eliminated the overcrowded condition at the Beltline building and allowed WMU to expand the MSW program by 30 percent more than what it was just three years ago.
The downtown center is situated in the Cherry Street Landing district, just a few blocks south of the Van Andel Arena.
In addition to classrooms and the counseling clinic, the building also offers a Cyber Café; a PC lab; faculty, administrative and advising offices; and the Grand Hall and Commons — a meeting and banquet facility that can seat about 400.
“We’re really emphasizing graduate programs. We’re also adding doctoral programs downtown. That was one of the promises we made to the area after we did some market research. People were requesting not to have to drive to Kalamazoo or a few cities east of here,” said Schultz.
“We have now in operation a doctoral program in counseling, a doctoral program in career and technical education, and this fall we’re kicking off a doctoral program in the administration of higher education with Ferris State.”