In an effort to attract students, partnership programs are growing rapidly between higher education institutions all across the United States. Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo Valley Community College dove headfirst into this trend with their sustainable brewing programs.

Photo courtesy of Kalamazoo Valley Community College

Photo courtesy of Kalamazoo Valley Community College

The trend consists of students transitioning from a two-year institution to a four-year institution and earning a certificate instead of a degree. On a national level, 46 percent of students who completed a four-year degree program had been enrolled in a two-year institution from 2005 to 2015, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

“This is the new reality,” said Ed Martini, the associate dean of WMU’s Extended University Programs. “Either way, it’s not something to fear or to fight. It’s just a way where you can build new programs, partnerships and pathways for students in a smart way that can benefit multiple institutions and can really be practical for students and families.”

Twenty-two percent of all college awards are certificates opposed to Bachelor’s or Graduate Degrees, Career Education Report from Assumption College. The same report said one in 10 American workers hold certificates.

WMU’s and KVCC’s enrollment mirrors the national trend. Thirty students are enrolled in WMU’s program, which is 10 fewer than the 2017 goal, Martini added.

KVCC has 70 to 80 students in their three programs, which exceeded expectations for the program’s first year and is a very strong response, said Dean McCurdy, KVCC’s associate vice president for Food and Community Sustainability. The three programs are the 30-hour standalone certificate, an applied science associate’s degree and an associate of science degree, which is designed specifically to transfer to WMU’s program.

However, a new partnership is not without its problems. Dr. Steven Bertman, a WMU professor who helped create the sustainable brewing program, sees the brewing certification as an experiment for future models. He believes internal structures of higher education institutions are not currently catching up. 

“The whole mission of universities is shifting,” Bertman said. “That is something the faculty are last to accept because we’re shifting away from academics being the sole and primary mission of the university.”

The organization and the curriculum in academic disciplines are changing to include things such as service learning and career development. The current academic curricula has more focus on commercialization and partnering with the private sector, Bertman explained. Such a partnership requires more interdisciplinary collaboration and more attention to the world outside the university.

Photo by Casey Watts

Kevin Ahn — Photo by Casey Watts

“This may seem natural to your generation, but it is not the world that most faculty grew up in,” he said.

However, Bertman does see this new partnership trend creating an increased interest in students. He attributed this enthusiasm to students being able to see the connection between the classroom and the profession.

Kevin Ahn, a WMU student in the program, said classes are more rewarding because students are getting out of the classroom and learning through hands-on experience. He said this is a result of the program being taught by people who have worked in the industry such as Mike Babb, who worked for 20 years as the head director of Coors Brewing Company.

“College has been so much more rewarding now that I really love what I’m learning,” Ahn said.

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