March 09, 2017

Eastern Michigan University President James M. Smith stresses diversity, academic programs and community role in testimony before Lansing lawmakers

YPSILANTI – Eastern Michigan University President James M. Smith testified before Lansing lawmakers Thursday (March 9), highlighting EMU’s diverse student population along with several of its academic programs that play an important role in connecting higher education with Michigan’s economic recovery.

James M. Smith
President, Eastern Michigan University

President Smith, who is in his ninth month as EMU’s leader, testified before the Michigan House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education. The group is hearing testimony this month from each president of Michigan’s 15 public universities as the legislature prepares to vote on next year’s higher education budget.

Please click here for the full text of President Smith’s testimony. 

Students from Michigan who stay in Michigan

President Smith noted that Eastern has about 22,000 undergraduate and graduate students, with 90 percent of those students coming from Michigan and from almost every county in the State. “Nearly 80 percent of our students remain in Michigan after they graduate – working, starting new businesses, paying taxes, and raising their families,” President Smith said.

He noted about 42 percent of Eastern’s students receive Pell Grants – one of the highest rates in the State, reflecting the level of need of its students. In addition, more than 25 percent of EMU’s first-year students, and more than 27 percent of its entire undergraduate student population, identify as first generation. One-quarter of its students are part-time, as many of them work one or more jobs while taking classes to pay their way through college.

“EMU is an institution of opportunity for Michigan students,” President Smith said. “That is part of our Mission Statement, and it drives everything we do.”

Preparing Michigan residents for good-paying jobs

Smith said that in addition to being an institution of opportunity, Eastern is committed to adjusting its academic programs to meet the demands of Michigan employers and provide students with the skills they need to succeed intellectually and pursue a good-paying career.

Among the academic programs he noted:

• The Information Assurance program trains students in cyber-security, and has been designated by the National Security Agency as a Center of Academic Excellence. Its graduates are in high demand in both the public and private sector.

• The online RN-to-BSN program allows nurses who have already earned their associate’s degree to earn a bachelor’s degree. The program is online and offers six different starting times throughout the year, thus providing flexibility for working nurses regardless of where they live.

The Doctor of Nursing program, approved by the EMU Board of Regents last month, will prepare clinical nurses for the most challenging types of care delivery. The Regents also approved a new degree in mechanical engineering that will utilize existing engineering faculty and facilities. “This smart investment meets the demands of Michigan’s growing high-tech economy,” President Smith said.

• The Fermentation Science degree, which launched this past fall, is about more than just beer, President Smith said. Students receive an interdisciplinary education that includes organic chemistry and microbiology to prepare for careers in pharmaceuticals and biofuels.

“Our investments in academic programs are working,” President Smith said, adding that according to a recent University survey, 92 percent of EMU’s recent graduates were either employed, a full-time caregiver, or in school, and 80 percent of those employed were working in Michigan – paying taxes and contributing to our local communities.

Community college partnerships, supporting transfer students

President Smith said that supporting the needs of transfer students remains central to Eastern’s mission. Along this line, the University has 140 articulation agreements with community colleges – more than any other university in Michigan. These partnerships help community college students find a seamless, and less costly, path to a degree.

Engaging and supporting the community

Among areas President Smith touched upon:

• College Coaching Corps: The University has launched a College Coaching Corps, which places trained EMU graduate students in high schools to work directly with low-income and first generation high school students to help facilitate the college admissions and financial aid process. “Programs like the College Coaching Corps are creating the next pipeline of high-performing low-income Michigan college students,” President Smith said.

• Financial aid: Eastern has doubled its financial aid in the last seven years – institutional dollars separate from federal grants or loans to support high-performing students of need.

• Serving Michigan veterans: Eastern has also made it a priority to serve Michigan veterans who have served their country. It has one of the largest veteran student populations among four-year institutions in Michigan, both in raw numbers and as a percent of students. “GI Jobs” magazine recently ranked Eastern as the number five military friendly university in the country.

In closing, President Smith noted that he, like many at Eastern, was a first generation student.

“I’m a testament to what can happen if first generation students have the opportunity to pursue higher education,” he said. “Other states are investing in higher education because they realize that states with higher educational attainment have higher incomes, lower unemployment, and more job growth.

“And the number one challenge cited by industry is lack of talent. To address this challenge, we need to invest in those students who might not otherwise have the opportunity to attend college – that’s how you move the needle to grow Michigan’s economy.”

About Eastern Michigan University

Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest university in Michigan. It currently serves 22,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University's Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Health and Human Services; Technology, and its graduate school. EMU is regularly recognized by national publications for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University's website.

Contact Geoff Larcom,, 734.487.4401

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