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Gov. Rick Snyder challenged public university presidents and trustees at the third annual State Universities Summit “to envision and embrace transformational change; to lead not adapt; to collaborate not compete; and to be proactive not reactive.” Snyder encouraged public higher education to drive economic development, innovation and entrepreneurism.

His vision for higher education revitalizing Michigan’s economic and cultural future entails, seizing opportunities inherent within four macro-trends: declining numbers of high school graduates that force public universities to expand student populations beyond the state and beyond the traditional 18-24 age demographic; advanced placement courses, early/middle college, and dual enrollment that enable high school students to enter college with a year or more of academic credit toward a degree; an economy that demands more post-secondary credentials; not just degrees but certification programs; technologies expanding so rapidly workers must commit to lifelong learning in order to master them and cope with the magnitude of societal change.

Lake Superior State University accepts his challenge. Our small size, entrepreneurial spirit, distinct location, and unique mission equip Lake State to be the prototype for Michigan’s public universities and an ideal beta test for implementing policies and practices which are responsive to the on the macro-trends Snyder identified.

Lake State’s enrollment of 2,000, with a strategy to grow to 3,000, is one-third the size of the next smallest public university in Michigan. Nimble and entrepreneurial, Lakers are willing and eager to take risks, try new programs, serve diverse populations, collaborate with multiple partners and be the institution to test new theories and strategies for improving higher ed.

Our location in the Eastern Upper Peninsula with its pristine natural beauty, a stone’s throw from the bridge to Canada, the largest percentage of Native American students among Michigan’s public universities are distinct strengths. LSSU can and should be a driver of economic development and cultural vibrancy consistent with our mission and founding slogan, “Enter to Learn; Go forth to Serve.”

Lake State has already begun to address the four macro-trends highlighted by Snyder and plans to expand and enhance these initiatives. Our admissions strategy focuses on expanding out-of-state and Canadian recruitment in marquee programs like robotics, fisheries and wildlife management, parks and recreation, forensic chemistry and fire science. Our recently approved Eastern Upper Peninsula Early College partnership with our local districts provides increased college access for Native American and first generation, rural students across our region. Through blended, online and in-class learning, high school students will have the opportunity to earn up to an associate’s degree, while also completing their high school diploma.

Also inspired by Snyder’s speech, our Engineering Department is designing a five-month certificate program in Industrial Robotics to attract international and out-of-state students to prepare them for Michigan’s World Class robotics industries. And LSSU faculty are generating courses in natural resources, environmental science, conservation management and aquaculture that address issues affecting our unique location at the intersection of three of the Great Lakes and expand the impact of our new Center for Freshwater Research and Education.

Lake Superior State University has a passion for our region and its people. Yoopers are resilient, determined, and clever. Higher education will need this spirit and grit to thrive.

Peter T. Mitchell is president of Lake Superior State University.

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