Courtesy of UM-Flint
UM-Flint may soon see a brand new addition to programs offered on campus with the founding of a School of Technology. In the face of falling enrollment, it may be just what the university needs to reverse the trend.
The new school will be one of the largest changes the university has seen. It would be the first organic school since UM-Flint’s founding in 1956, as all other schools on campus originated from the College of Arts and Sciences.
Currently, computer science is the closest thing UM-Flint has to a technology application and the new school would aim to expand on that.
Right now, the plan is to have anywhere from two to four programs offered when the school begins. The proposed programs could include majors in cybersecurity, aviation and artificial intelligence. As Chancellor Debba Dutta described it, these will act as good indicators in whether to expand the degrees offered in the future, if they are popular.
Some examples of fields in technology include software development and computer systems analysis. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, many of the fastest growing careers are in technology and are projected to keep growing over the next decade.
The exact details of SOT have yet to be determined, but some aspects have been discussed. The school and it’s classes will occupy existing spaces and computer labs around campus and could eventually use the new expansion coming to the Murchie Science Building.
In addition to expanding what UM-Flint offers to students, SOT is part of a larger effort to recruit more students from outside Genesee County and other surrounding areas. Dutta also is looking to draw in more out-of-state students.
Called Project 2020, the objective is to address the growing issue of falling enrollment by increasing recruitment and retention of students. UM-Flint’s administration’s hope is that offering a wider array of programs will be a potential solution to this trend.
“It became very clear to me that the enrollment decline that we have had five years in a row from 2014 onward, every year we have less than that, this is a very serious issue. So we needed to address that,” said Dutta.
Enrollment has been one of Dutta’s biggest focuses since becoming chancellor last June. As enrollment declines, the amount collected from tuition also declines, affecting the revenue stream other programs on campus can take advantage of.
Dutta sees technology as similar to engineering. However, where he sees engineering is mostly involved in mathematics and designs, technology is essentially applied engineering. A lot of work will involve the use of computers but could also include the use of labs and real-world experiences. “Less math and science, more hands on is one simple way to describe it,” said Dutta.
By founding a School of Technology, Dutta hopes UM-Flint will be able to take advantage of this booming job market and help the greater economic region.
“So you get good jobs, well-paying jobs, and the connection to the state of Michigan is that our graduates, a majority of them, stay in the region and the Michigan economy needs this kind of technology graduate,” said Dutta.
Perhaps what gives UM-Flint one of the biggest advantages is the lack of other schools of technology in the state. Currently, there is only one other school of technology in Michigan, located at Ferris State.
“See, that’s the strategic advantage. We are positioning ourselves in a space which is not occupied by too many institutions,” said Dutta.
The announcement that Baker College would be closing its Flint campus last summer could allow for UM-Flint to recruit more students as well. According to Michigan Collegiate Cyber Defense Network, Baker has consistently had one of the highest ranked technology programs in the entire country–especially in cybersecurity–but a new School of Technology at UM-Flint could now potentially fill that void.
Dutta mentioned he recently travelled to Pennsylvania State University to tour their technology program, which he said is widely considered one of the best technology programs in the entire country. While there, he was able to get some advice and ideas for what the new school at UM-Flint could use.
But to get a whole new school up and running, it will take more than just the chancellor to get it done. As part of the process in instituting a new program, faculty will play an integral part.
The Faculty Council, an organization of various faculty representatives responsible for approving any new educational programs, are the ones who will ultimately decide if the new school will be founded or not. As part of the rigid process in instituting a whole new program, they will review any proposals and submit revisions if needed. Finally, they will have to vote on whether to implement the school or not.
James Schirmer, PhD, the chair of the English department and current chair of the Faculty Council, is looking for more than just the technology aspect of a new school. He wants to make sure there is still a focus on the academic standards UM-Flint expects.
“Well, I think the faculty across campus are concerned about enrollment,” said Schirmer. “But they’re also concerned about providing quality instruction and academics to the students, both that are here already, but as well as students that might be coming here as a result of this.”
As part of a liberal arts education, general education courses outside of a school of technology are important in shaping the higher education of UM-Flint students. Schirmer said he and the rest of the Faculty Council will have to make sure a new school is encompassing this just as the other five schools on campus do.
Faculty are also looking to other institutions for advice and guidance in how a school of technology could look at UM-Flint.
Schirmer and other members of faculty from around campus travelled to Purdue University on Wednesday, Feb. 26. While there, they were able to get a peek at their school of technology that is consistently ranked as one of the best in the country.
Dutta and the Faculty Council have been working closely to work out the proposal in time for the school’s aggressive deadline.
As of right now, the school is set to open by the fall semester of 2021. “I think the chancellor and the council have a good working relationship, and I think we’re both invested in having that continue,” said Schirmer.
New faculty and an entire administration structure will also be hired to run the school. It has yet to be determined if the university will transfer existing professors into new roles within the school, hire from outside or a combination of both.
Throughout the rest of the year, more details will be made available as they are formulated. For now, it appears within the next couple years, current and future students could look forward to new educational opportunities.