GRAND RAPIDS — The reaction of some grateful University of Phoenix graduates got Simon Lumley hooked on a university career.
“I think the real turning point for me was going through my first graduation ceremony with the University of Phoenix and having people that I helped hug me and say they never would have done it if I hadn’t been there for them,” he recalled.
“So that can kind of changed it from a job to ‘This is what I want to do.’ And I’ll never think about doing anything different.”
Lumley, who took over as campus director for the University of Phoenix’s West Michigan region on July 1, oversees executive management and strategic direction of the university’s two West Michigan campuses in Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo.
He has been with the university since he hired on as an admissions counselor in New Mexico in 1993.
He went on to serve as associate director of admissions for the university’s Louisiana campuses, as director of enrollment in Baltimore, Md., and, later, in Phoenix, Ariz.
He most recently served as director of enrollment for the metro Detroit campus, where he was in charge of the admissions process for the university’s three learning centers in Detroit.
In fact, Lumley is completing his master’s in business administration at the University of Phoenix this fall.
Before joining the University of Phoenix, Lumley worked as a financial services representative for Ameritas, an investment firm based in Lincoln, Neb.
“At that point in my life I had been in a career for a few years, but I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up,” he recalled.
He decided to look for a job in Albuquerque, N.M., because he wanted to be closer to his mother, who was ill at the time.
While driving from Nebraska to New Mexico, he stopped in Denver to visit some friends and kept seeing the name of the University of Phoenix on road signs. He saw the same signs driving through Colorado Springs and Santa Fe.
“I kept thinking I was in the wrong city every time,” he recalled. “Then I saw the university in Albuquerque and I just had to figure out what it was all about, so I walked in.”
He asked about the university, ended up talking with a few people and landed a job interview the next day.
He was attracted to the job here because it was a position of increasing responsibility over his previous position, he said.
The University of Phoenix was one of the first accredited universities to offer college degree programs via the Internet, a practice it started in 1989.
The university caters to working professionals, and with 116 campuses and learning centers in 22 states, Puerto Rico and Canada, it’s the largest private institution of higher education in the United States.
There are three different ways to take classes at the University of Phoenix, Lumley explained.
One option allows students to complete 100 percent of their education online over the Internet.
Another option is attending class one night a week and also participating in a learning team one night a week outside of class. That’s one of the options offered at the Grand Rapids campus.
The third way to go is “Flexnet,” which is a combination of both: The first and last night of class is held in the classroom and everything in between is done online.
Lumley pointed out that the university has had a tremendous response to the Flexnet option, which is getting underway for the first time this month.
“We started out by just asking our nursing students if it would be something they would be interested in and already we have two groups that are ready to launch.”
One group of existing students is transitioning from the classroom format to the Flexnet program this month, and a group of about 15 new students will start in the Flexnet program this month, as well.
Flexnet allows students living far away from the campuses to drive in to town just twice and do the rest of the work through the Internet, whenever and wherever they want, he said.
“We’re going to have a tremendous amount of growth here. It reminded me a lot of the Albuquerque campus when I got here.
“It’s about the same size city and has about the same number of educational institutions. Albuquerque went from where we are right now to almost double size in a year and a half.”
The university began offering courses in Lansing in May and will be looking for space to establish a campus there as well, Lumley said, possibly as soon as the middle of next year.
He said the university normally anticipates a 15 percent to 20 percent growth rate a year.
He expects that within a few years the university’s student body in West Michigan will grow to 1,500 to 1,600 students and that the university will likely have two campuses in Grand Rapids, in addition to the Kalamazoo and Lansing campuses.
The goal is to continue to meet the needs of adult students through additional programs and locations based on what the needs of the community are at that time, he said.
“It’s hard to say exactly what Grand Rapids will need in five years. But we’re an organization that can move fast enough that if the needs do change, we can be there.”