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Niles Campus debuts four ‘FlexForward’ programs

Four “FlexForward” programs debut at Southwestern Michigan College’s Niles Campus this fall. FlexForward programs consist of 100% evening and online-hybrid classes designed to fit working students’ schedules so they can earn a degree without drastic changes to their schedules. Online-hybrid courses offer the best of both worlds. They meet on campus just once a week, while the remainder of coursework is completed online. This provides students the convenience of online courses while retaining the benefits of meeting instructors and classmates face-to-face.

Associate Vice President for the Niles Campus Brent Brewer said, “The FlexForward program allows students to take one class, two classes, three classes, four classes, as many as they feel comfortable—all at night, which is nice for working adults or parents who have to be home during the daytime with children.”

FlexForward programs include business, criminal justice (CJ), health information technology (HIT) and general studies, an Associate of Arts degree for undecided students who can finish foundational coursework while exploring career options.

An associate degree in business can advance careers in finance, marketing, economics or human resources, plus offers the option of continuing to a bachelor’s degree through Ferris State University on SMC’s Dowagiac campus.

A criminal justice degree can help move forward in law enforcement, investigation, forensics, law, corrections and security. The hands-on CJ program also ladders directly into Ferris’s bachelor’s degree available on the Dowagiac campus.

Update skills and prepare for the Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) certification exam with the region’s only accredited HIT program. HIT is perfect for records or insurance professionals looking for career advancement. Many health-care employers will reimburse tuition costs.

“We put general studies together to accommodate undecided students who might want to dabble in classes to get a feel for what college is all about without being program specific,” Brewer said. “General studies we’ve found to be popular among working adults. Business and CJ are two of our most popular programs. (HIT) is a newer program that used to be offered days in Dowagiac.

“We’ve found most students in HIT are non-traditional and work during the day, so it’s now a night program. In Niles, it’s closer to the students who are taking it, such as Lakeland employees. (HIT) is a perfect program for people who want to be in health care, but without blood.”

“Non-traditional” working adults are younger than before, as reflected in additions of a fitness center and game room to the Niles Campus. “Non-traditionals can be right out of high school, but don’t want college life and go right to work,” Brewer said.

The Niles Campus attracts students from Niles, Dowagiac, Edwardsburg, Brandywine and Berrien Springs and across the Indiana state line.

 “We have a lot more dual-enrolled high school students than in the past,” Brewer said. “We’re going to have 140-150 high school students dual-enrolled, including CT (career and technical education). Adult learners are 25-35 years old. We schedule to accommodate Early College students, plus traditional-aged students and our non-trads.”  

The Niles Campus opened in 1991. A 1999 expansion doubled instructional space, followed two years later by the adjacent M-TEC advanced technology facility named for late state Sen. Harry Gast, R-St. Joseph.

In Aug. 2013, the first phase of a three-phase, $3 million renovation was unveiled. The first phase ushered in a fresh look with a new Student Service Center, SCALE-UP (Student-Centered Active Learning Environment for Undergraduate Programs) science labs and created a faculty/student commons.

SCALE-UP classrooms facilitate student teamwork and instructor movement between groups. There is no separate lab class. “Lectures” are class-wide discussions, with students making observations while working on engaging problems.

Staff and faculty office spaces radiate from the commons like spokes so academic support and student services are right where students need them.

The futuristic commons, with pods of big chairs beneath overhanging lights, flows into a learning center with banks of computers, tutoring and the science lab.

Phase two, completed in the summer of 2014, created a second student gathering place similar in feel to that of the Student Activity Center on the Dowagiac campus and a community room.

SMC offers advanced technology programs exclusively at Niles Campus, including welding, mechatronics and precision machining.

Visit to learn more or call the Niles Student Service Center at 800-456-8675, ext. 4811, or e-mail to get started.

The Niles Campus, open Monday-Thursday, 7:30 a.m.-6 p.m., is located east of downtown at U.S. 12’s intersection with M-60 in Cass County’s Milton Township.