Best Practices
December 30, 2013

Adrian College Finds Prosperity in Partnerships

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When Adrian College President Jeffrey Docking, PhD., testified before Congress this fall, he was not there to present a problem—he was there to introduce a solution.

In 2005, his institution’s outlook was dire. Enrollment numbers at the rural Michigan school had fallen to fewer than a thousand students, bills were piling up, and multiple dorms had to be shuttered. Desperate for funding, Adrian College accepted 94% of students that applied that year—essentially taking anyone who would come. As expected, many who did enroll were not prepared for college-level work, and the institution’s retention rate fell to a dismal 59%. Adrian College was at a tipping point, and many openly feared it would not recover.

Instead of closing its doors, however, the small liberal arts college decided to change course. In addition to various initiatives, such as a more strategic internship program and an innovative loan repayment system, Adrian College began partnering with local employers to provide students with hands-on experiences. In return, those same businesses could offer services to the community that they otherwise would be unable to provide.

One such partnership is Track and Explore, which pairs Adrian College with the Michigan International Speedway (MIS) to allow students to study plants and animals living in that unique ecosystem.  Students studying biology are able to gain hands on experience in the field, and education students are able to work towards their required student teaching hours through an innovative student teaching program.

The program invites local elementary schools to come to the speedway without charge and participate in interactive field trips lead by Adrian College’s future teachers. Within the first year, over 1000 students were served by the program, which administrators hope to grow and develop further. “Track and Explore provides a holistic practical teaching experience beyond the traditional classroom–curriculum development, budget planning, flexibility of lessons and scheduling, and the opportunity to work in an interdisciplinary team,” says Adrian Professor Penny Cobau-Smith, who works closely with the program.

Thanks to innovative business partnerships such as Track and Explore that have expanded Adrian College’s learning experience outside the classroom, today the school is thriving. Enrollment has jumped to 1,700 students and the retention rate is a much-improved 85%. The annual budget has increased from $28 million eight years ago to $64 million today; allowing the school to create a variety of new graduate programs and academic institutes in addition to making needed investments in the school’s infrastructure.

By adapting to Michigan’s changing economic landscape and finding new ways to connect to local employers, Adrian College was not just able to survive; it has become a model of innovation and student success.