Enrollment at the University of Michigan’s Flint campus has declined 25% in the last seven years. In response to this decline, former University President Mary Sue Coleman sent a charge letter to U-M Flint Chancellor Deba Dutta on Aug. 29, 2022, calling on U-M Flint administrators to analyze the school’s business model and make major changes to boost enrollment. In response, Dutta and the U-M Flint administration have since been working to establish the Flint Strategic Transformation Plan to increase enrollment and make the campus a sustainable academic institution in a competitive higher education sector.
Dutta appointed the Huron Consulting Group in September 2022 to analyze the school’s academic and business models as part of the research for the Strategic Transformation Plan. The Huron Consulting Group, which specializes in market research to determine points of improvement for businesses to be more competitive, has worked to solicit student input and feedback for U-M Flint’s leadership to consider.
Robb King, U-M Flint director of marketing and communications, told The Michigan Daily the Huron Consulting Group was selected to consult the University about the plan so they could receive expert advice from an impartial source.
“(The University) identified the need for an unbiased external lens to help U-M Flint evaluate its current position, future opportunities and options,” King said. “Huron’s expertise in higher education and … in facilitating extensive community outreach and engagement efforts in the context of strategic planning exercises (is) a critical component of the strategic transformation initiative.”
U-M Flint has not yet released specifics about the Transformation Plan as they are still developing it. Dutta, in cooperation with the U-M Flint administration, started hosting town halls in September to receive input from the U-M Flint community about what they want the plan to include.
King said student input has been fundamental to the planning stage since students bring a variety of diverse perspectives. U-M Flint has received over 2,000 feedback forms from a combination of students, faculty, staff, parents and community members. King said campus administration are continuing to welcome feedback from anyone who would like to share their input.
“Focus groups have been just one channel for students to provide input,” King said. “In addition to focus groups, students have been encouraged to submit questions and feedback; administrators have met personally with student leaders and organizations and students have … participated in Town Hall update sessions. Earlier in January, we hosted a student forum and invited every student to watch and participate.”
In an interview with The Daily, U-M Flint senior Alyssia Washington said she routinely notices disparities between the Flint and Ann Arbor campuses, noting that Flint’s status as a satellite campus is apparent.
“When I went to the (Flint) campus, it felt like I saw the man behind the curtain at the Wizard of Oz,” Washington said. “It’s very clear that at a satellite campus, we’re not given the same level and quality of education that the Ann Arbor campus has. Dearborn has the same problem — we don’t get the same level of opportunities.”
Washington said she thinks the administration needs to get to the root of the problem by addressing the disproportionate funding of satellite campuses compared to U-M Ann Arbor and spoke about witnessing prospective students be disappointed by the U-M Flint experience.
“I worked with international admissions at one point, and I would see people from all over the world come to the campus, all excited,” Washington said. “Then they arrive here, and they’re disappointed because they realized that the quality of the college experience that they’re having here is not the same as they would have got at another place, like Ann Arbor.”
In an interview with The Daily, U-M Flint junior Sami Kotob said he is worried that the plan will prioritize STEM programs and will lead to the defunding of humanities programs. The Flint Strategic Transformation website does not mention any intent to defund or close any programs.
“It seems like the entire Transformation (Plan) is about reinventing the University so that it can survive in the future to me,” Kotob said. “I don’t really know, but I feel like my program is at risk. I don’t want to feel like I should be forced to switch to another major or feel as if I’m not welcome here anymore. I’m in a position where if my program is cut, I will go to another college.”
King said the Transformation Plan will not unfairly prioritize STEM programs over the liberal arts.
“No individual program has received ‘preference’ over another during the review and analysis of market data, the review of U-M Flint’s economics or in the gathering of community inputs,” King said. “In December, market data and trends were shared with the community at a town hall. The data suggests that many STEM programs are well-aligned to growing student interest and workforce demand in the state and nationally, while demand for most liberal arts degrees has been declining.”
Washington said she believes students need their voices to be heard by the administration so that the Transformation Plan represents what is best for the entire campus.
“We are Wolverines,” Washington said. “We’re (speaking out) for future Wolverines as well. I want people to know that it’s okay to fight and it’s okay to speak up. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.”
Daily Staff Reporter Maleny Crespo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.