SMC's Niles campus sees huge increase in enrollment - Fox 28: South Bend, Elkhart IN News, Weather, Sports

SMC's Niles campus sees huge increase in enrollment

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The following is a press release from Southwestern Michigan College:

NILES – "I wish I'd taken a picture of the parking lot. Nearly every space was filled," Stacy Horner, dean of Southwestern Michigan College's Niles campus, says about the fall semester's first day of class.

Compared to the fall 2012 semester, 24 percent more students enrolled at SMC's Niles campus this fall. Last year the campus enrolled 618 students; this year, 766 students were enrolled.

And those students are taking more classes. Students enrolled in almost 30 percent more credits at the Niles campus. Last fall students enrolled in 3,865 Niles campus credits. This fall students enrolled in 5,009 credits.

With classes just starting on Sept. 4, the college's Institutional Research department is still drilling through the numbers to give administrators more detail on the phenomenal increase. But even without formal data, Horner feels that SMC's student success strategies play a large role in the increase.

"Students first. That's the guiding principle of all our strategic planning," says Horner. "We continually look at how we can improve the educational experience for students."

A $3 million phased renovation project began earlier this year at the Niles campus to support SMC's "students first" philosophy. From a SCALE-UP (Student-Centered Active Learning Environment for Undergraduate Programs) science lab, to easier accessibility to faculty, to locating all student services off of the main commons area, even additional vending, the campus physically supports student success. 

But as important as physical environment is in education, Horner feels that the efforts she and her team put into the academic side of the equation may be one of the reasons for the increase in enrollment. For instance, Horner and her team built full two year schedules for certain academic majors so students have a clear road map to degree completion and/or transfer.

"You have to have the right product," she says. "And we've done a better job of packaging our classes in such a way that students move through their degree very efficiently."

More and more students are looking for ways to complete their degree in as short a time period as possible, including 18-year old Patrick Harvey of Edwardsburg who plans to transfer to a bachelor's degree-granting institution after completing his associate degree at SMC. "I want to show whatever college I transfer to that I was focused on getting my degree and serious about academics."

Horner also serves as the dean of SMC's School of Business so she's very anxious to review any data that might provide an explanation for the jump in enrollment.

"We want to know what we're doing right, so we can not only keep doing it, but we also want to identify the processes that have the strongest impact on student success," she says. "It's always exciting when you start off a semester with a bang, but you can't see it as an excuse to continue the status quo. It's an opportunity for institutional growth and we want to take full advantage of that."

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