Never too late: GVSU President Mantella and Governor Whitmer announce new online program


Courtesy / MLive

Sean Cauvet, News Editor

There are big changes coming to Grand Valley State University in 2020. GVSU President Philomena Mantella and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced on Wednesday a new education plan that will be geared toward non-traditional students that are over the age of 24, with work experience and at least 30 earned college credits.

“Today we are announcing degrees and certificates for the two million working Michiganders who have some college credit, but had to leave school before earning a bachelor’s degree,” Mantella said. “These busy adults are looking for realistic, affordable, high-quality offerings to advance their careers and to complete their journey. That is why we’ve developed and accelerated online degree programs that will support them.”

Whitmer plans to use her newly-approved $35 million budget to implement the program, with the hope for expansion on the horizon.

Mantella made sure to clarify that these degrees are geared toward degree completion, not just participation.

“They (the students) have the convenience of online learning, but the value added of a community experience. And the program doesn’t require you to pick a path but allows you to choose your own. The featured accelerated degree program is 19 months long, and grounds you with an interdisciplinary bachelor’s degree and one of four certificates built around high-demand workplace needs like project management, data analytics, global communication and leadership.”

When asked about how she would give a program that is based online a community feel, Mantella noted design among other things.

“The online is not a format of just publishing content. First of all, the online design is one that will encourage teamwork, encourage connections and will be very vibrant. In addition, we’re utilizing all our sites and again we hope this will be wildly successful and we can do it in other communities with what I’ll call ‘light touch experiences’ where students will gather together face-to-face with their faculty. We will have success coaches for the students along the road so they can have in-person or online meetings, so we have many ways for them to form a network. I call them ‘light touch’ because… It’s specifically designed for the working adult who has lots of demands and can intermittently enjoy those experiences face-to-face.”

Along with the program, Mantella and Whitmer brought along two students that have already expressed interest in enrolling, Alyx Dean and Dustin Stek. Dean was previously enrolled at GVSU and is seemingly exactly who this program is designed for.

“I had the pleasure of actually attending Grand Valley from 2010-13. At that point in my life, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with my degree, I was going for nonprofit management at that time. I decided to step away, did a year of service with a Americorps, then I realized I needed a real job and I ended up in the insurance industry. Several years later, I feel like I’m at a solid place in my career where I can take some time for myself and pursue something I’ve been looking to do since I left,” Dean said.

Similarly, Stek wasn’t able to finish his degree when he was younger because life came at him fast.

“When I was 19, I had my first child. Being 19 and working full-time, it was pretty difficult to juggle school and raise a family. Unfortunately, I put school on the back burner and focused my efforts on raising a small family. Twelve years later, hopefully a little more stable and more mature, I thought it was wise to finish my degree here and I came across the program. With it being an online format for a working adult, I figured I can spend a few nights a week advancing my career and making that accomplishment of completing my bachelor’s degree,” Stek said.

To help ease those considering and convince them to take the first step, Mantella announced that the first class will be fully refunded.

“Getting started is really scary,” Mantella said. “Grand Valley is confident in our design and in you, so we’re launching the program with our investment in your success. As proof of our confidence in you, we will reimburse the cost of your first course to apply to a future one. We want to lower your risk to just get started now.”

Mantella continued by saying that the changing workplace demands creativity, and GVSU is up to the challenge.

“We’re confident that this will be a meaningful contribution to our businesses, communities and the state of Michigan’s full participation in the knowledge economy,” Mantella said.

Also, Mantella clarified the difference between the new program and the current online classes that GVSU offers to its students.

“(The difference) is in the design of the program. They’re six weeks and in terms where people can focus intensely on a subject. They’re not cohort-based, meaning that everyone doesn’t have to start at the beginning and go through the same two or three years. Also, we’ve never offered the portfolio across all of our sites, so in the design, the modality ,and the physical location (there are new) dimensions,” Mantella said.

When Whitmer was elected Governor of Michigan in the midterm elections 14 months ago, she made a goal to have at least 60% of Michiganders have a post-secondary certificate or degree by 2030. This program will help her reach that goal, and she says the partnership is a sign of things to come.

“Philly, Grand Valley State, thank you for taking this leadership role on and I’m hoping that others see the wisdom in the path that you are forging and replicate it,” Whitmer said. “For now, we know that Grand Valley is going to make a huge impact on so many lives in our state. This is what real leadership that improves people’s lives looks like, congratulations.”

The program will first roll out in Grand Rapids, Allendale, Holland, Traverse City and Detroit with more to come. Although Whitmer used many road metaphors throughout the announcement, she ended with a powerful one.

“We need to change our culture of thinking of prosperity as a ladder, (where) there’s one way up, into more rock climbing. There’s a different path for everyone to independence and prosperity in their work. This is one additional path for Michiganders to be able to get the skills that they need to get into a great paying job,” Whitmer said.