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Resort and Restaurant Management Program,
Northwestern Michigan College

Paula Puckett and George Johnston

Northwestern Michigan College (NMC) was founded in 1951 by a group of citizens who wanted to provide an affordable college education for area residents. In 1955, NMC became Michigan's first community college under the Michigan Community College Act. Serving 65 students with a staff of six, NMC has grown to serving an unduplicated head count of 5,500 students by the 1993-1994 academic year. During that same year, 100 full-time faculty and another 150 part-time faculty served 2,483 full-time equivalent students. Academic year 1993-1994 credit student enrollment was 5,747, an increase from 5,300 credit students in Fall 1993. White enrollments make up 92% of the total enrollments at the college and 30% of NMC's students are between 18 and 21 years old, with the average age of 28.

The focus of the college's curriculum appears to be split fairly evenly between transfer (33%), adult and continuing education (40%), and occupational (27%). The college has a higher than usual interest in continuing education programs due partly to the fact that 25% of the population in the area is over the age of 50. The college currently offers nearly 200 continuing education courses. Table A-6 provides a breakdown of student ethnic background and shows that 24.5% of students receive Pell grants.

Though the ethnic culture on campus is not diverse, the campus encourages personnel to try out new ideas and rewards a willingness to learn from these experiences. This was evident in NMC's investment in distance learning technology and offering hands-on teaching at the Park Place Hotel and off-campus electronics labs. A willingness on the part of the institution to take risks appears to be instrumental to the development of the Hotel and Restaurant Management Program which brought us here. In addition to other programs on campus, this program seems to reflect the college leadership's vision of more balance between school- and work-based education. NMC's President feels that the program fits with the college's mission as follows:

Northwestern Michigan College is a comprehensive community college committed to open access, excellence in teaching and learning and support for student success through career, enrichment, and transfer programs--in partnership with the communities it serves. (Northwestern Michigan College Catalogue, 1993, p.1)

To keep the college informed about the program, the Resort Management Department Chair reports on program activities at biweekly cabinet meetings held by the President.

Table A-6
Enrollment and Student Demographics for
Northwestern Michigan College
(Academic Year 1993-1994)

Note: UK indicates unknown or unavailable information.
Enrollment and Student DemographicsIncidence
Institution's total head count enrollment5,747
Institution's FTE enrollment/TD>2,483
Ethnic composition of students (total population):

Percent of students receiving Pell grants23%
Average age of the institution's entire student population28

Program Overview and Goals

At NMC, college faculty and administrators, students, and community leaders all benefit from a unique situation in Traverse City, a pleasant resort community nestled along a bay area off of northern Lake Michigan.[2] In addition, the local Rotary Club plays an integral role. In the mid-1980s, the Rotary Club recognized that the combination of the closing of the large downtown hotel, known as the Park Place, and the expansion of the city (malls and a resort) on the outskirts of town, could be detrimental to the downtown community. The Rotary Club purchased and funded a $14 million renovation of the Park Place as part of the organization's commitment to education. Opening in 1991, the hotel offers 140 guest rooms. Nearly 15,000 square feet of meeting and convention space are available for groups of 10 to 700 persons. Upgraded audiovisual equipment plus teleconferencing capabilities allow the hotel to support many types of meetings.

The Traverse City area Rotary Club has earned the distinction of the "richest Rotary Club in the world." Most of its wealth is due to the purchase of oil-rich land for a boy scout camp. The club enjoys an active membership of over 300. The Traverse City Club saw the Park Place Hotel as a unique opportunity to create a training center while enhancing the downtown community. The Rotary Club's goals for the program were tri-fold:

  1. To form an educational partnership/hospitality management Program.

  2. To restore a landmark hotel which serves as an anchor for downtown Traverse City.

  3. To profit, eventually, in order to support additional community philanthropic endeavors.

The program was started to support the growing need for people trained in one of the top service industries in the United States, especially in the Traverse City area. Over 30 two- and four-year colleges in Michigan alone offer hospitality programs. According to the Dean of Occupational Studies at NMC, who used state grant money to assess other programs throughout the nation, "the thing that makes ours unique is the Park Place Hotel. Ours is the only program that offers such extensive on-the-job training in a live environment." Students enrolled in NMC's program have an opportunity to gain actual work experience in the Park Place Hotel and the Oleson Center (a conference facility located on the main campus). In addition to their normal duties, the Hotel General Manager, Executive Chef, Pastry Chef, Banquet Manager, Rooms Director, Food and Beverage Director, Human Resources Director, and Controller are all involved in the instruction of students.

The number of students enrolled in the program rose from 80 in Fall 1993 to 92 in Fall 1994 (see Table A-7). Similar to the institutional characteristics, 91% of students in the Resort Management Program are white with what appeared to be a fairly even balance between males and females. Of the minority students, 3% were Asian and another 6% were unknown. The average age of students was the same as the institutional average of 28. Pell grants were received by 22% of the students in the program. While student graduation rates are low at 14%, the program's job placement rate is 100%, providing some indication of employers' need for people with experience in the resort management industry regardless of whether students have actually acquired the credential.

Table A-7
Enrollment and Student Demographics for the
NMC Resort Management Program
(Academic Year 1993-1994)

Enrollment and Student DemographicsIncidence
Total number of students enrolled in the program92
Ethnic composition of students:

Average age of students28
Percent of students receiving Pell grants22%
Graduation rate for students14%
Job placement rate for students100%
Transfer rate for students35%

Since the program is relatively young and evaluative information is unavailable, the college is currently working on follow-up with previous students. The criterion for determining whether to follow up a particular student is the number of credits completed toward a degree. Two students plan to move to Las Vegas to gain additional work experience and attend the University of Nevada at Las Vegas (UNLV). They then plan to return to the Traverse City area to obtain management positions. They understand that employers in the community tend to either hire "just anybody" to clean rooms or very experienced managers. Even though these students appear willing to move away from the community to enhance their education and careers, most students expressed an interest in staying in the area and expected to have difficulty finding a management position there. Few anticipated leaving the area to find employment directly related to their degree, even though that might be the best way to facilitate a career in the hotel management field. The local community appears to have a very strong hold on its people.

Since joining the college in 1992, the Department Chair of the Resort Management Department constantly reviews the program to improve it. He and the hotel's newly hired General Manager believe that NMC's program is one of the "best kept secrets in the area." According to them, the goal of the program and its staff is to graduate students who are competent, work-ready, and prepared for the rigors of a challenging career in the hospitality industry by emphasizing training and education in a real-life environment. Though he is optimistic about the program's future, the Department Chair is the first to admit there is room for improvement. Based on a recommendation of an outside consultant, the Rotary Club hired a management company to take care of the business when it first opened. It quickly became apparent that the company was not committed to offering educational opportunities for students, leaving the program in disarray. It took some time to take care of the contractual agreements and hire a new manager. It then took time for the organization to recover.

Key Stakeholders

All of the people involved in the program demonstrate their commitment to its success through their actions. The key stakeholder groups are college leaders, policymakers, the Resort Management Department Chair, faculty, Rotary Club members, and students.

College Personnel

The program has two full-time and five adjunct faculty who also work full-time at the Park Place Hotel. Each brings a unique combination of experience to the program and knows what it takes to be successful in the industry. Even though most of the faculty have been at NMC since the beginning of the program, they remain in touch with the industry through their work at the Park Place Hotel. There, they keep their knowledge and skills honed. In addition to the management of the Park Place, the faculty's backgrounds include teaching at Paul Smith's, a private culinary school, and participation in the development of professional standards in the Council of Hotel and Restaurant and Institutional Education (CHRIE) association. Many faculty also participate in the American Culinary Federation (ACF). These faculty have a special program to honor those who make exceptional efforts toward accomplishing the mission of the college. This award is administered by an ad hoc committee that evaluates faculty nominations. Such faculty incentives are unique to the college and indicative of its commitment to faculty development.

Faculty compensation is handled in an innovative fashion. Faculty are paid according to the number of student-contact hours. Hotel staff (as adjunct faculty) receive instructor pay for their teaching load according to the number of students enrolled in the course. On campus, a course must have at least 15 students to be offered. Courses taught at the hotel may only have 5 students enrolled and, in these situations, instructors are paid 5/14 or approximately 1/3 of the regular salary. This enables the college to offer courses every semester, while avoiding unjustified expenses. The guaranteed scheduling allows students to take a particular course in any given semester and instructors enjoy giving more individualized attention to students. The college can afford to administer the Resort Management Program through additional fees charged to students based on the actual instructor-contact hours (i.e., the number of hours a student spends in class that exceeds the number of credit hours). Rates are 100% of credit-hour rates, or $49.25 per contact hour for in-district students and $81.50 per hour for other in-state students. For a course such as "Quantity Food Preparation," which is a required 4-credit hour course, students pay for four additional contact hours, thus bringing the cost of one course to $394 for in-district students and $652 for other in-state students.

To help offset the higher cost of this program, scholarships are available to students. Two $150 F.E. Fivenson Food Service Scholarships are awarded annually to full-time students enrolled in the Resort Management Program with a minimum of a 2.5 grade point average. There is also the Hospitality Industry Scholarship Fund-Katie Shield Memorial. Katie Shield was a well-known restaurateur in the Grand Traverse area and very active as a leader in the Michigan Restaurant Association. In her memory, a scholarship of varying amounts is awarded annually to a student in good standing and in need of financial assistance. The Chef Pierre Scholarship consists of one $1,500 annual award to a qualified student enrolled in the Resort Management Program who demonstrates financial need and exceptional academic promise. In addition, there is a National Cherry Festival Scholarship with a $2,000 award.

Dedication to the program is evident from all of the people associated with it, especially the Career Dean. In addition to coordinating community and work-based learning programs, she reads extensively to keep up with business trends and philosophies. She serves on all pertinent committees to stay involved with the community. She also excels in finding creative ways to use federal money such as offering conference funds to academic staff interested in learning more about initiatives such as Tech Prep. She has also spearheaded a follow-up evaluation of programs using federal money to find out what students are doing five years after they leave the college. In addition to her numerous contributions, many faculty consider the Resort Management Department Chair as a champion of the program. He is responsible for coordinating the teaching of students at the hotel; participating in the CHRIE association; consulting with and, as a mentor, advising students; chairing the Rotary Center Education Committee; and teaching.

The Park Place Hotel

A strength of the program is the Park Place Hotel itself. Its updated facilities are a major asset to the program. The hotel provides a place for students to feel the real-life pressures of the fast-paced industry but in a somewhat more sheltered, nurturing environment. The hotel is currently operated by a board of the Rotary Club; NMC has a seat on the board. The Oleson Conference Center, located on the college campus, is a profitable business, run by a certified culinary educator. He and his students provide food and facilities to groups with educational-based purposes. The profitability of the Oleson Conference Center is essential to providing realistic training for students, especially since relatively small numbers of students are enrolled in the program itself.

Rotary Club Members

Not only did Rotary Club members make a major investment in the renovation of the training facility, the Park Place Hotel, they have served as customers of many of the luncheons hosted by students. In addition, they hire all the hotel management-level personnel and currently pay the Resort Management Department Chair's salary on a five-year basis. They also serve on the Park Place Board and its Education Committee, dedicating many hours to the project each week.


Although nearly all of the students enrolled in the program are white, the Department Chair is hoping to recruit more minority students. The program is working to develop stronger relationships with area high school counselors to enhance student recruitment. Just like faculty, students bring previous work experience to the program from places such as Las Vegas casinos. Students are required to pay lab fees and contact-hour fees for courses where the actual instructor time exceeds the credit hours. This strategy helps the college pay instructors for their actual time and ensures they will be available to provide extra help. As is common with most programs having a culinary arts component, students must also purchase uniforms and knives.

Program Components

Although prior to our visit we thought the program was a school-based enterprise, the site visit revealed that it is not quite that--yet. A traditional school-based enterprise is defined by Stern et al. (1994b) as a "class-related activity that engages students in producing goods or services for sale or use to people other than the participating students themselves." At NMC, students are not completely responsible for providing the hotel's services. To date, a Board of the Rotary Center manages the hotel. However, the program might be considered a budding school-based enterprise since students are taking responsibility for more and more aspects of the business. For example, the college recently worked out an agreement with the Rotary Club so that students can manage the hotel's family-style restaurant. The college calls this aspect of the program "work-based education," which is thought to represent several models including internships and apprenticeship training. In our view, as the program exists today, it is more representative of cooperative education or internship models than school-based enterprise, but the intention of becoming a true school-based enterprise is readily apparent. To accomplish this, the college will need to take more responsibility for the actual day-to-day management of the hotel. And when this occurs, the college can turn more responsibility over to the students to manage the hotel.

In a related venture, the college is in the process of working with the Rotary Club to open a bakery. Based on research conducted by the students regarding baked-good providers, the college determined the community could support a student-run venture of this type. At the time of our visit, negotiations were under way to establish the bakery. "The Patisserie" is scheduled to open in February of 1995.

School-Based Learning Component

The school-based learning component of work-based learning programs generally include integrated vocational and academic courses, providing the theory behind what actually happens at work while also keeping students informed of career opportunities. At NMC, this is also the case. Students attend classes their first year on the college campus in primarily liberal arts courses with one work-related course taught at the Oleson Conference Center (i.e., Quantity Food Preparation). In their second year, students attend classes at the hotel with the opportunity for short field trips to view actual operations. In addition, they actually work in the hotel.

Most recruitment efforts for the program are informal, consisting of cooking demonstrations at job fairs or high school career days. The Department Chair is looking to change this by using strategies similar to those used in the industry, including using professional recruiters, offering incentives for referrals, and asking past graduates to give testimonials. The relative newness of the program has not allowed time for resources to materialize to accomplish these activities; however, at the time of our visit, the Career Dean was working on hiring a part-time recruiter.

The college got involved in local community events such as the National Cherry Festival by sponsoring a recipe contest which helped to advertise the program for both potential students and the community at large. While the program is looking for quality students, they are committed to open access by only requiring a high school diploma or equivalent, and the demonstration of beginning algebra abilities, in addition to college-level writing skills. The President stated, "I think that our open access program will serve as a model for our other programs in that we need to integrate the work experience into the curriculum, as the `Park Place' Program does. We also hope to get other areas such as accounting and business involved at the hotel." The program does screen all students interested in the program because they must be interviewed and admitted by the Department Chair. He explained, "all students are welcome to our program, though I want to talk to them first to make sure they like working with people. That's what this industry is all about."

NMC recently revised the Resort Management Program requirements listed on the following page into some of the most intense for this particular program area in the state:

Communications: English Composition I and II8 credit hours
Humanities:Any basic course3 credit hours
Mathematics:ASSET score of 42 or Elem. Algebra4 credit hours
Science:Any basic course with lab4 credit hours
Social Sciences: Government3 credit hours
Additional:Any basic core course3 credit hours

Students complete 16-credit hours of business courses, including accounting, business math, an introduction to computers, and management. The hospitality courses include quantity food preparation, sanitation, menu planning and purchasing, front office procedures, hospitality human resources, accounting, and food and beverage management.

Added to the standard liberal arts and business course requirements (i.e., accounting, introductory business course, business math, computers in business, and principles of management) of the 66-hour AAS degree are requirements that students demonstrate specific competencies in the following six key areas of hotel management while working at the Park Place Hotel:

  1. banquet management
  2. front desk operations
  3. buffet planning
  4. housekeeping
  5. fine dining service
  6. main kitchen operations
Students participate in six-hour labs that simulate the actual work setting, which include activities such as general kitchen and cooking duties. Many of the products created are served to faculty or other groups meeting for educational purposes as the lab is located in the Oleson Conference Center.

The curriculum integrates occupational and academic curriculum, specifically in the menu planning and purchasing course. Students are required to plan a meal with a theme and price items appropriately. The meal is then advertised and prepared for the local community. This course provides students with the opportunity to gain the entire experience of running a restaurant. In addition, the restaurant located within the Park Place Hotel, The Parlor (formerly called Dally's), is operated daily by the students.

Students can receive an AAS degree if they complete all requirements of the program. NMC is also considering establishing other awards or means of recognition to give students additional incentive to complete the program. Since students are able to get jobs without the actual degree (and are frequently hired prior to completion of the program), establishing other forms of recognition for completion is necessary. Unfortunately, at the time of our visit, the college was not ready to reveal what these awards or recognitions might be.

Work-Based Learning Component

The work-based learning Component requires students enrolled in the program to work 30 hours per week in the hotel itself. Some students are paid; some are not. Pay is determined by where students are stationed. After assessing each occupational area and developing competencies for each area, the program has been designed to pay students who are directly contributing to earning money for the hotel such as those working at the family restaurant on the main floor. Other students who are receiving training or doing indirect service functions such as front desk and cleaning services are not paid. The hours students actually work varies to accommodate those who work other jobs. The responsibility for coordinating schedules with actual work areas is that of the college's, although a college representative is also at the work site.

Students rotate through different jobs, serving an average of three weeks in each position. This can vary depending on the student. Since the hotel is otherwise fully staffed, students are not rotated based on the hotel's needs, but, rather, according to their individual plan established with the Department Chair. Students rotate from the bar service area to the front desk, to the kitchen, to housekeeping, to the pastries area, but not necessarily in that order. Because the average age of students in this program is 28, there are no restrictions on where they can work as there might be if youth would need to be prohibited from serving liquor. Program staff believe it is crucial to require students to have a working knowledge of the entire enterprise, especially what goes on in the "back of the house," meaning the kitchen. Through these rotations, students are required to demonstrate the specific competencies established for the program by the Department Chair.

Connecting Activities

The fact that selected courses are taught at the hotel itself facilitates a strong coordination between workplace and classroom learning. Informal training plans are designed for each student based on his or her previous experience. These plans are made up of a review of the student's previous experience compared with the six core areas of banquets, buffets, housekeeping, main kitchen, fine dining, and front desk operations. Students are expected to complete an off-site internship experience to gain a broader understanding of the industry at an approved site. Examples of previous internship sites include Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, and Glacier National Park in Montana. There are many intern sites located in Michigan as well.

Worksite mentors work at everything from pastry chefs to being the Department Chair. When asked how he distinguishes between advising and counseling students, the Department Chair responded that he's "careful not to get into personal issues with students. That's not an area that I am trained in," meaning that he respects the expertise of counselors to help students deal with personal issues. He is a very hands-on person, often wearing his "whites" to help out in the kitchen and assisting instructors with teaching and student evaluations. He tailors his coaching skills to students and to his already very competent staff by taking time to consider individual needs. He is proactive in helping other faculty develop support materials and course content. Of course, since worksite and college mentors are the same individuals, good communication between the work site and the college is ensured.

Finally, students are often placed before they graduate, so their placement is rarely a concern. The three counselors at NMC are currently operating with a ratio of 1,500 students to 1--an overwhelming ratio. The college offers additional pay and training for faculty who serve as advisors and the Department Chair serves as an advisor for all students interested in the Resort Management Program. A counselor we interviewed was vaguely familiar with the program and did not communicate an awareness that students need to be "people-oriented" to do well in the industry. Clearly, without knowledgeable counselors, the program is at a disadvantage in recruiting or enrolling new students, and this is an area that college administrators openly discussed as needing to be strengthened.

Lessons Learned

The people we interviewed demonstrated an eagerness to learn and share new ideas with others. The efforts of the Rotary Club and the college to collaborate were not without rough spots, but again, the individuals involved were able to learn from each other's experiences. In addition, many people who did not have time to serve on committees provided valuable insights into program development on an ad hoc basis. Recognizing how other outside experts can provide additional resources is important. The NMC personnel benefited from seeing that outsiders could provide fresh ideas that insiders had missed. To facilitate this perspective, the college established the program using benchmarking--an evaluative process designed to compare a program with similar programs that are widely recognized as the very best. In benchmarking, other similar programs are assessed to find out what makes them unique and of high quality. Then, once started on the journey of developing the program, the college adopted ideas learned from benchmarking. The ideas were not overly ambitious and changes were not made overnight, rather they were made incrementally. When the hotel partnership was first established, efforts to develop a community training center had to be stopped due to a lack of resources to coordinate similar initiatives sponsored by the community and college. Planning within the constraints of available resources was an important lesson learned by the college early on.

The process of establishing the program also required that the college and the Rotary Club learn more about each other. The Rotary Club needed time to deal with educational bureaucracies. Even though the college moved quickly by its standards, it was still considered slow by the business-oriented club members. By the same token, college faculty had to learn to be sensitive to the language of business. Speaking the same language was key to building a successful partnership. Finally, although the Rotary Club's involvement provided the basis for a strong partnership with the college, it appears that change is inevitable and the partnership is in transition. Some Rotary Club members felt that the Rotary Club's primary objectives had been accomplished and it was time to move on. (The Rotary Club's initial investment was tremendous and will take years to recover; bonds are due within a year.) Since running a hotel requires constant change such as weekly menu changes and high staff and management turnover, it is difficult to maintain consistency in training students. Although the college faculty has stayed the same, the hotel staff (who could also be potential role models for students) has not.

In thinking about the work-based learning component of this program, it is important to note that the program has a unique fit in this local community. Although there are an abundance of hotel jobs in Traverse City, most are low-skill, low-pay, and seasonal. Most of these jobs do not lead to management positions. Consequently, local employers (who do not appear particularly attentive to training employees for these low-skill jobs) are not very responsive to hiring people who NMC has trained for the resort industry. In fact, the demand for graduates of the program in the immediate area is low. This does not appear to jeopardize the program. Students are encouraged and trained to work in any full-service hotel. Often those who wish to work in the Traverse City area as managers gain enough experience elsewhere to return as resort/hotel managers.

Unfortunately, these circumstances raise concern about the value of the program and the AAS credential itself, since it would appear the degree is not appreciated fully by local hotel/resort businesses. Frequently, students take positions before program completion and they do not finish. (At the time of our visit, NMC was pursuing data on graduate or former student salaries to determine the extent of this problem.) Nevertheless, since the actual number of program graduates is low, NMC is considering changing the program to a certificate and dropping the AAS degree requirement altogether. This would have the advantage of enabling students to focus on building specific skills and entering the labor market more quickly, but at the lower salary levels offered by local employers. Even though this idea was supported by the President of the college, we had concerns about its potential to limit students' long-term career opportunities in favor of the short-term requirements of local businesses.

A final obstacle we noted was a lack of resources to support the program on the college side. A frequently stated concern was given about the program needing student recruiters. More communication about the program within the college (to counselors) and the hotel (to staff) was needed. The fact that few students were enrolled in the program demonstrates that it might be appropriate for the college to invest in more recruitment efforts. With such investments, the program may be able to have a more direct and positive impact on local economic development.

The "Park Place" Program, as it was called by NMC's President, offers a unique and valuable model of a community and community college partnership. Features of the program appear to be replicable by other colleges (e.g., flexible scheduling, worksite job rotations), although some parts really are one of a kind (the Rotary Club's investment in a multimillion dollar hotel/training facility). When asked to consider the program as a whole, the Department Chair was modest yet congratulatory of community colleges generally. He summed up his impressions of the Park Place Program by saying, "The industry experience we offer is similar to what is done in other exemplary programs in the United States--but at a bargain community college rate."

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