// Photo by Jenny Lane Studios
The growing importance of Flint’s colleges and universities is slowly turning the city into a college town–not like the traditional college towns one sees on postcards, but one with its own special flavor and advantages.
Flint has long been known as the Vehicle City, where they made carriages and then cars, a working-class place where someone could leave high school and move into a well-paid factory job with General Motors. It seemed that there was no need to go to college, or anything beyond high school.
“Today, by most estimates, there are as many as 30,000 college students in Flint and Genesee County.”
That, of course, hasn’t been true of Flint for some time. As those old manufacturing jobs declined, the city of Flint has been quietly developing a new part of its economy. The growing importance of Flint’s colleges and universities is slowly turning the city into a college town—not like the traditional college towns one sees on postcards, but one with its own special flavor and advantages.
In Flint, the college-town element has been here for a long time, though it was hidden behind the mantle of the auto industry and GM. Three of our leading colleges have been here almost as long as General Motors. Kettering University (once General Motors Institute), Mott Community College (once Flint Junior College) and Baker College are all close to the century mark. Kettering was founded in 1919 and celebrated its centennial on July 20. Mott was founded in 1923 and Baker in 1911. The other mainstay of Flint’s university backbone, the University of Michigan-Flint, has been here since 1956. Today, by most estimates, there are as many as 30,000 college students in Flint and Genesee County.
Each of these institutions has connections to other colleges and universities in the state, and this diversity of educational choices gives the “Vehicle City” some advantages over traditional college towns.
Though all of our colleges offer a wide variety of programs, degrees and classes, each has its own strength that gives the city a wide choice of educational venues.
Baker began as a business school in 1911 in downtown Flint, teaching skills such as typing and shorthand. In the years since, it has grown to offer more than 100 career programs in business, healthcare, education and technology. It now offers everything from associate degrees to bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in many of its major areas. It promotes itself as preparing students for the world of work.
Over the years, it has expanded well beyond its Flint campus, and now boasts 14 locations, as well as an online college. It enrolls 12,000 students in over 100 programs statewide.
Average full-time tuittion is about $9000. Though it is planning to close several campuses, including the Flint base, it has been a major force in the city’s educational landscape.
Kettering University, founded in 1919, began as the School of Automotive Trades and then the Flint Institute of Technology, before becoming the General Motors Institute of Technology (and later General Motors Institute), when General Motors acquired it in 1926. It split with GM in 1982, and became Kettering University in 1998.
With its strong engineering focus, Kettering has been called “the West Point of the automobile industry.”
Kettering offers a wide range of bachelor’s degrees in the sciences, engineering and mathematics, as well as master’s degrees in business management, engineering and technology. It enrolls more than 2300 students in a typical year—about 2000 undergraduates and about 300 graduate students. Average full-time tuition and room and board is about $43,000 per year, but many grants and internships are available.
Kettering has just announced plans to create a multi-million dollar learning commons academic center on its campus. They hope to break ground on the $60 million project in October of 2019.
In addition to its academic programs, Kettering has played a major role in redeveloping the area around the campus. Speaking of Kettering’s commitment to the community, Jack Stock, Director of External Relations for the university says, “Kettering University has created the University Avenue Corridor Coalition – a stabilizing force for the three neighborhoods west of downtown.
Kettering is a catalyst for economic growth including Atwood Stadium, Einstein’s, Jimmy Johns and Cross Fit, and has been a driver in reducing crime, eliminating blight and promoting a sense of community.”
The University of Michigan-Flint
The youngest of Flint’s major colleges and universities began in the late 1950s, as a part of the Flint Junior College Campus on Court Street. UM- Flint was a part of the junior college campus until the late 1970s, when it made its move downtown to its current location. Debasish Dutta, previously a Rutgers University chancellor, has been named the new head of the UM-Flint campus, replacing outgoing chancellor Susan Borrego.
“Our campus is a vibrant epicenter of learning and inclusion. We are the proud campus of the University of Michigan in downtown Flint. A unique place to begin your future as a Wolverine and achieve the priceless value of a Michigan degree,” says Jim Peck, p.g.a., executive director of communications & marketing.
The UM-Flint has grown from 118 full-time and 49 part-time students in 1956 to more than 8000 today, including 700 international students. It offers degrees in over 100 areas, including master’s and doctoral degrees in several dozen fields. Average full-time tuition is about $12,000. The UM-Flint partners with area school districts to offer the Genesee Early College program where high school students can earn college credit as they complete their high school education.
Mott Community College
Founded in 1923, Flint Junior College was created to provide the first two years of a college degree, and its curriculum paralleled that of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Over the years, the college’s mission evolved as it went through several name and location changes.
By the 1930s, it began to offer occupational courses, as well as classes for students pursuing a traditional four-year degree. It changed its location from a wing of Central High School in the 1920s to the Oak Grove Campus, where the Flint Public Library is now located in the 1930s and 1940s, to its current campus on Court Street in the 1950s. The land for the Court Street campus was once part of C.S. Mott’s farm.
All those location changes were reflected in a series of name changes as well. The college went from being Flint Junior College to Flint Junior Community College, Genesee Community College and finally to Mott Community College in 1973. Today Mott has nearly 9000 students. Average full-time tuition is about $4200 per year. Currently, it offers several dozen occupational degrees and transferable associate degrees, as well as many certificate programs. It also partners with the Genesee Intermediate School District to offer the Mott Middle College, where selected high school students study on the Mott campus and take college course work.
On April 26, the Genesee County Bar Association awarded Dr. Beverly Walker-Griffea, president of Mott Community College (MCC), the Golden Apple Award to recognize her work in promoting education for people charged with felonies. MCC is one of 67 colleges and universities participating in the Second Chance Pell program, which allows eligible prisoners to receive Pell Grants for higher education to help them get jobs upon release.
MCC has also implemented the Community College Court Diversion Program (GC4DP) for felons in Genesee County with Judge Yuille and Prosecutor David Leyton to give first-time nonviolent offenders an alternative to probation, conviction and/or prison time by providing career training and educational pathways at Mott College.
Other colleges and universities in the area
In addition to the “Big Four” colleges and universities in the Flint and Genesee County area, many other institutions of higher learning have a presence here. Michigan State University opened a medical school extension in downtown Flint. Davenport University, Bellevue University, Michigan State University, Rochester College, Ferris State, and the University of Michigan-Flint all have some programs or offices on the Mott Campus, and there are articulation agreements with many other institutions. Michigan State, Northwood, Central Michigan University and Spring Arbor also have satellite campuses in the area.
According to Kip Darcy, Kettering’s vice president of enrollment management & marketing, Kettering welcomes transfer students from Mott, Lansing and Oakland Community Colleges. They have also developed programs that work with students from Grand Blanc and Powers high schools.
Flint – How do we compare?
So is Flint a college town? We have at least 30,000 students, at least four major colleges and universities in the area and connections and shared programs with more than a dozen colleges and universities in the state.
However, we’re still not an Ann Arbor or East Lansing. Those campuses are larger, are bigger parts of their local communities, and have longer histories. There are more than 50,000 students at MSU; 46,000 at the U of M-Ann Arbor; 27,000 at Wayne State in Detroit; 22,000 at Western Michigan in Kalamazoo and 21,000 at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant. Tuition at most of those universities ranges from between $12,000 and $15,000 plus room and board.
Yet, Flint and Genesee County offer many advantages that might not be apparent when outsiders look at us as a “factory town.”
Our colleges and universities are more accessible, tuition is more affordable, parking is more available, rents are more reasonable, and the area offers many other cultural advantages. The Flint Cultural Center is growing and offering new artistic and scientific advantages as they expand their educational mission.
Downtown Flint is increasingly taking on a college flavor with its monthly art walks and frequent festivals and events.
As Flint moves from being the factory town of the past and begins to take on the atmosphere of a college town, several leaders of our colleges and universities see a bright future for Flint and its collegiate future.
”Kettering is passionate about the Flint community and the difference we can make,” Darcy says. “Kettering looks to contribute to the economic vitality of the community by working with all of the other institutions of higher education in Flint.” He expects that the Flint Promise program can also play a significant role in making Flint more of a college town.
Mott Community College President Dr. Beverly Walker-Griffea may be putting it best when she says, “I believe the importance of colleges today in the life of Flint remains the same as it has in this area for 100 years. Our ancestors recognized that an accessible and affordable college credential would be the key to economic viability and sustainability for this community. Today the four area higher education institutions work together to ensure that Flint and Genesee County have a highly skilled and literate talent pool that attracts and retains businesses offering high-paying jobs.”
Over the many years that Flint has evolved from a lumber town to a carriage town to an auto factory town, it has embraced new challenges and opportunities. Becoming a college town may be one more of Flint’s ever-changing steps into the future.