Baker College celebrates a century of career-focused education

Ask yourself this question. Despite the challenges Michigan’s economy has faced, which of our institutes of higher learning regularly reports that over 99% of its students are employed in their professional fields within six months of graduation?

Was Baker College of Auburn Hills your first guess?

100 years ago this month, Eldon E. Baker founded the Baker Business College in Flint, promising his inaugural 150 students a quality career-oriented education at an affordable price. A century later, the nonprofit and nationally accredited Baker College system is Michigan’s largest private institute of higher learning; training more than 43,000 students at 12 campuses, four satellite locations and over the web. There’s Baker College, the Auto/Diesel Institute in Owosso, the Culinary Institute of Michigan in Muskegon, plus the Center for Graduate Studies. Granting certificates, associate and bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees and even a doctorate of business administration program, the range of possibilities associated with a Baker College degree has certainly expanded since Eldon’s days. But a Baker graduate still means one thing in Michigan — a well-trained student ready for a career.

The Heart of Auburn Hills

To understand what Baker College’s centennial celebration means to Oakland County, head to the Auburn Hills campus, which has been guided by the steady hand of Baker College of Auburn Hills President Jeff Love for 16 of its 20 years in existence. Love’s teaching career began at Baker in 1968. 43 years later, he’s still here.

“I’m one of the originals,” he says with a laugh. “They’ll have to carry me out in a casket.”

He’s seen plenty of changes during his tenure in Auburn Hills. “Most dramatically would be the growth. When I got here we had 800 students. Now we have 4,000 students.” Love says. Baker College of Auburn Hills has expanded from one building to four, including the Technology Center for automotive and tech-related programs at 1195 Center Road. “It’s been a very, very busy time,” he says. “We rarely go more than four years without having some major addition or renovation done to the campus.”

Though the physical changes to Baker College of Auburn Hills are impressive, Love says the educational mission — a relentless pursuit of jobs, jobs, jobs — hasn’t budged in the last century. “Back in those days, in 1911, the automotive industry was just getting started in Flint,” says Love. “Baker was there to prepare people for careers in secretarial work, accounting and bookkeeping. Over time, we just decided that there were a lot of other career fields that we could help people prepare for.” While fundamental business degrees like marketing, business management and accounting remain popular, 40% of students at the Auburn Hills campus are now enrolled in health science programs. Specialized paths in the automotive industry and computer information systems are still in high demand. Baker College’s offerings reflect the diversified and emerging sectors propelling Oakland County’s economy today — from Medical Main Street to Automation Alley to high-tech digital careers.

There’s a reason Baker College’s programs and Oakland County’s economy are so entwined. Says Love, “One of the things that we always emphasize internally to people that bring programs to us is, ‘Are there jobs available? Are there careers available in that field?’ That’s the first question we have to answer.” No jobs? No degree program. “If there are no jobs available,” Love promises, “we aren’t going to have a program.” That helps explain Baker College of Auburn Hills’ incredible career placement statistics. In his 16 years of leadership, the average job placement rate for students six months after graduation is 99%. Even during the worst economic times, three years ago, 97% of Baker College grads found steady work. This year, it’s 100%.  Read that again — graduate from Baker College of Auburn Hills, and you are guaranteed to find a position in your career field. Not even the Ivies can say that.

A Common Sense Approach that Breeds Success

As the Director of Admissions for Baker College’s Auburn Hills campus, Jan Bohlen says she still loves the feeling of “making a positive difference in people’s lives every day.”  In her 20 years of experience in post-secondary education, she’s spent 19 of them at Baker.

“The technology’s changed, obviously,” she says. “I’ve gone from not having a computer on my desk to hardly being able to get away from it for a few minutes.” She and the admissions staff at Baker have embraced innovation and social media to find new ways to connect with potential students. “We are now connecting on Facebook and texting students to help them discover their career path, to invite them to campus for tours,”  says Bohlen. Baker students are enrolling online and registering for their courses online after their first quarter. That’s one reason, Bohlen says, that the Auburn Hills campus has become increasingly popular with recent high school graduates, who now account for almost 40 percent of incoming students. Still keeping up, and always increasing, are adults searching for the right profession — or, in many cases — a second career.

Why, as the years pass, are more and more students choosing Baker College? As colleges across the nation pass on increasing costs to students in the form of higher tuition, Baker students know their education has real, tangible value. “We don’t waste our students time on unnecessary or unrelated classes,” Bohlen explains. “They take what they need to be employable and specialized in their career path.” Baker enrollees also take comfort in the college’s commitment to refining specialized programs to reflect technological and market advances. “We invite local employers to partner with us in many ways,” she says.”One of which is to advise us as far as curriculum, which we call student learning outcomes.”

Baker’s career services staff regularly survey local employers to find out which positions are currently in demand — and what training their students need to succeed in the field. Those continuously-supported relationships also pay off in coveted internships for Baker students. We invite employers to utilize our interns and they’re very anxious to do so,” Bohlen says. “The end result is that most of those employers hire those interns for full time employment.”

And Baker grads know they aren’t forgotten once they’ve donned the cap and gown — all Baker College students have lifetime employment assistance from any Career Services office.

100 Years of History to Celebrate

With a centennial anniversary to mark, not to mention 20 years of service to Oakland County, Baker College will host an open house on Saturday, Oct. 8, from noon to 4 p.m. on the Auburn Hills campus, which is located at 1500 University Drive.

“We look forward to celebrating these milestones and invite all area individuals and families to come and share in the day’s activities, have some fun, and learn about everything that our campus has to offer,” says Love.

Mirroring the college’s commitment to educational diversity, there’ll be something for everyone at the Centennial Fest, which is free to the public.  What’s on the menu? Free food and beverages, a 100th anniversary cake, ice cream, a fire truck, dancing, a student art show and an auto show are among the attractions, plus a bounce house, story hours, obstacle course and face painting for kids. Academic activities include campus tours, self-defense demonstrations, computer security demonstrations, medical and dental screenings and computer animation displays.

In addition, a $1,000 tuition scholarship will be awarded to 10 current or new Baker College of Auburn Hills students. Visitors have the chance to score great Baker College swag, like golf bags, camp chairs, sweatshirts, coasters and cups. Also, business community members will donate gift baskets and gift certificates from local restaurants as giveaways.  

“We’re excited about the centennial from this perspective — 100 years of successful education and training in the state of MIchigan,” Bohlen says. “We’re also very grateful to our community and appreciative of the Oakland County community for 20 years of service to the county. We’re excited to share with the community what we do at Baker College of Auburn Hills.”

We’re sure thousands of successful Baker College graduates — not to mention legions of satisfied local employers — are sharing in that gratitude.

Photos courtesy of Baker College.