"I see potential and possibility everywhere"


FLINT, Michigan—After a steady decline in enrollment over the past five years, the University of Michigan- Flint is taking steps for better retention with its Project 2020 plan beginning with its School of Technology slated for completion Fall 2021.


Technology colleges fill a void between vocational-technical training at community colleges and Bachelor’s degree programs in engineering and computer science.


For current and potential UM-Flint students, the university is banking on a better fit with their focus on a four-year School of Technology. Chancellor Debasish Dutta sees this new development as a necessary step as education faces the technological needs and developments of the 21st century.


Flintside: How is Project 2020 expected to alleviate decreasing attendance numbers?


Debasish Dutta: "The purpose of Project 2020 is to increase recruitment, retention, and graduation rates, growing the total enrollment of the university. Project 2020 is an action plan that takes a multi-faceted approach to this issue and will be implemented over the next five years. We will do this by developing new programs, including a new School of Technology aligned with market demands and career pathways that will sustainably grow UM-Flint’s enrollment to ultimately reach 10,000 students."


Flintside: How was Project 2020 curated?


Debasish Dutta: "The Project 2020 action plan is based on data and current trends. Students and families are looking for a return on their investment in higher education. We must ensure that we are helping students to reach their educational goals, in a reasonable amount of time, and have them prepared and ready for the workforce. That is how the main tenants of the plan came together: expand recruitment, develop new programs aligned with market needs, streamline pathways for transfer students, grow advising and mentoring, and engage in curriculum mapping so at UM-Flint students can, in a timely fashion, gain the knowledge they need for the life they want."


Flintside: Why lead Project 2020 with the school of technology, why is it the initial focus?


Debasish Dutta: "When I arrived at UM-Flint, it was clear that we had to move to reverse five years of enrollment decline, and that reversal had to be done in a sustainable way. Educational institutions are impacted by economic cycles, and we need a solution that can withstand the ups and downs of the economy.


"Our School of Technology will be designed to meet the demands of the 21st century (often referred to as Industry 4.0). The UM-Flint School of Technology will be the second such school in the state of Michigan, and will instantly provide students with strong pathways to careers in a wide variety of technology-driven fields.


"Technology is applied engineering, and the curricula is a more hands-on experience for students, rather than theoretical. Our students working toward a 4-year bachelor degree in technology will learn many of the same engineering and computer science fundamentals using a project-based approach. Our students will have a strong foundation in critical thinking and communication from our outstanding liberal arts programs as a basis as they move forward toward their technology degrees.


"UM-Flint students will be better positioned for strong careers that pay well. A School of Technology will have a positive impact on the city and surrounding area, as students come from across the state, the country, and the world to earn their degrees here. This will also encourage these grads to stay in the state and region, which will help to improve the overall economy of the state of Michigan. It is a win-win for the university and our many stakeholders and constituents."


Flintside: What types of tech programs are expected to be offered?


Debasish Dutta: "We are exploring degree programs in new areas like artificial intelligence, mobility, cybersecurity, healthcare as well as some high demand traditional areas like automotive and IT. We will likely begin the school with 3 to 4 majors and grow from there."


Flintside: Where will the new school be located?


Debasish Dutta: "The starting of the new school will utilize some space in the new Murchie Science Building and the University Tower which we are hoping we can renovate through the state capital outlay. We will be able to construct a curriculum for the school, as well as hire initial faculty, staff, and administrators to manage the new school. We will use existing space on campus or the classes and labs necessary to start a new school. After that, we will plan on a new state of the art technology building."


Is anyone collaborating with UM-Flint on the Project?


Debasish Dutta: "We are talking with a number of local institutions and community partners about our plans, and ways we can work together. Recently, I met with President Beverly Walker-Griffea of Mott Community College to discuss how we can strengthen our relationship for the benefit of students. I see MCC, the Flint Cultural Center, and so many other entities as strong collaborators for the collective good of this community. We are working closely with the Flint and Genesee Chamber of Commerce to engage Genesee and southeastern Michigan industry to help us create a School of Technology that produces the workforce they need."


How do you hope this new direction will change and shape the landscape of UM-Flint?


Debasish Dutta: "This is an exciting time at UM-Flint. I see potential and possibility everywhere. Our faculty is outstanding and dedicated to student success as well as their own scholarly endeavors. The community support of the university is unmatched, and I am so pleased that we have partners who are as invested in our success as we are.


"The Project 2020 action plan will move the campus forward in an intentional way, for the mutual benefit of our students, our campus, and the community. By embracing a mindset of positive change that is matched with the realities of the local and global economy, we can continue our mission of providing students with an excellent liberal arts education, with curriculum that will help them to gain employment in the career fields of their choice. This will, in turn, increase the number of students on campus, and in the downtown area, benefitting the local and state economy. We are encouraged by the feedback and support we have received to this plan, and we look forward to implementing it over the next few years."

Read more articles by Ashley Schafer.