Henry Ford (Community) College

Image of Henry Ford College's "Welcome Center"

In 2014, as the college was developing a Bachelor Degree in Hospitality and Culinary Arts, the Board of Trustees voted to drop the “community” in its name and become Henry Ford College.

Beth Dalbey of Patch National reported in 2014: “HFC is part of a growing trend of community colleges that are dropping the word ‘community’ from their names. In the last 10 years alone, 40 colleges have dropped ‘community,’ including Schoolcraft College in Livonia, MI, and Jackson College in Jackson, MI.”

Dalbey continues, “One of the reasons for this name change is that HFC will begin to expand its academic programs and offer four-year undergraduate degrees in addition to its numerous two-year associate’s degrees and certification programs. Unlike most four-year educational institutions, HFCC’s four-year degree programs will primarily focus on technical industries as opposed to liberal arts programs.”

The new bachelor degree programs were reinforced by the new vision statement, “First Choice... Best Choice….” Former HFC President, Stan Jensen proposed the name change to the Board of Trustees, stating, “I am very excited that the College will begin to offer four-year degrees in the near future at very affordable rates. I can think of no better time than now for the College to change its name as it begins its next 75 years of academic excellence.”

With a new name and vision, it was only fitting that HFC would change its brand statement as well, which quickly became “Future Driven.” Many students who are on campus now quickly recognize this slogan and have seen it since first taking classes. In support of the new branding, Jensen stated: “We believe this is the right message for students and their families, with the emphasis placed on the student and their future.” So what exactly has happened since Henry Ford Community College changed its name, and what has the change meant for the college?

Henry Ford College isn’t the first school to change its name, and it won’t be the last. The “name game” has community colleges throughout the United States changing their names for numerous reasons. In the article “Colleges Play the Name Game,” Kim Clark from U.S. News reports: “A recent study found that more than 530 of the approximately 3,000 mainstream colleges and universities have at least tinkered with their names since 1996. And the name changes have been picking up the pace in the past year or so, says the study’s author, James M. Owston, a dean at Mountain State University.” Clark continues, “what’s more, as marketing has become more sophisticated—while regulations have remained lax—some colleges are picking new names that attempt to attract students by creating impressions that, in some cases, don’t entirely match the college’s reality.” To become more appealing in the eyes of potential students and neighboring communities is good reason to help solidify the reasoning behind a name change; however with so many changes taking part in this recent trend, there must be a few other factors at play.

A shortage of students enrolled in needed degree programs, and changes in taxation are crucial decision factors that colleges take into account before offering four-year degrees. Lindsay VanHulle, of Business Bridge’s, explains how those factors have affected schools throughout Michigan in the article, “Battle in Lansing over Community Colleges Expanding 4-Year Degrees.”

VanHulle says, “Michigan in years past has had a nursing shortage, but community colleges are responding to what they say is a desire from hospitals to employ nurses with higher credentials. Opponents, mainly Michigan’s four-year public and private universities, worry that they will now have to compete with community colleges for students. They point to ongoing partnerships with two-year schools, from holding university classes on community colleges’ campuses to agreements that let students transfer credits.” Ongoing partnerships between HFC and its neighbor universities is something many students on campus have become familiar with. Whether it is Wayne State, the University of Michigan, or Albion, these universities work together with Henry Ford College to increase the transfer enrollment rate to four-year universities, and to make the entirety of the transfer process easier.

Aside from transfer opportunities and offering degrees for needed programs, taxation and changes to an institution’s funding could quite possibly be one of the most important decisions at play when a college takes part in a name change.

“House Bills 5611-12: Would prevent community colleges from collecting local property tax revenue if they offer bachelor’s degrees in any area beyond four approved in 2012: cement technology, energy production technology, maritime technology and culinary arts,” says VanHulle. With property taxes being one of the largest means of funding for colleges, they must pick and choose their four-year degree programs carefully to avoid losing out on a majority of financial support. To show the importance of funding through taxation, VanHulle explains that “In the 2015 fiscal year, property taxes made up 34 percent of community colleges’ operating revenue, according to state financial data compiled for Michigan’s 28 public two-year schools. That year, colleges took in nearly $531.5 million in local dollars, up from nearly $522 million the year before. Tuition and fees are their largest revenue source, at 41.2 percent last year. State aid makes up much of the rest.” Losing that funding would leave colleges to fill in the funding gap using their own operational budget.

Knowing the behind-closed-doors decisions which can affect whether or not a college decides to pursue a name change, especially in regards to House Bills 5611-12, let’s look at the recent changes made by Henry Ford College. Offering a Bachelor Degree in Hospitality and Culinary Arts falls under the guidelines of the new House Bills, and explains the statement made by Dalbey that “unlike most four-year educational institutions, HFCC’s four-year degree programs will primarily focus on technical industries as opposed to liberal arts programs.” While there hasn’t been an increase in tuition for student’s seeking an associate degree or those looking to earn credits to transfer to a four-year university, you can see in the image taken from HFC’s website that level 300 & 400 classes nearly double in price.

It seems that through precise planning, HFC has found a way to keep its funding through local property taxes while offering more expensive classes that allow students to pursue a Bachelor Degree in the programs regulated by House Bills 5611-12 at no extra cost to their operational budget. Not only that, but the college has been able to rebrand itself and become more desirable in the eyes of potential students and its neighboring communities and universities.

Questions remain about the decision to change the name of the college, and how the college continues to address development, growth, and funding needs. What changes are next for Henry Ford College? Will it continue it’s development of four-year programs, or will it focus on two-year programs, offering affordable education for students who may or may not be seeking a four-year degree, while still receiving local taxes for funding? We will have to wait and see just how “Future Driven” Henry Ford College really is.