David Roland Finley guides college on path of improving lives via higher education
By Glen Young
If history is future, David Roland Finley, PhD, is starting what promises to be a substantial tenure as the new president of North Central Michigan College. Finley took over in July as only the college’s fourth president in over 60 years of operation.
This history is not lost on Finley.
“I hit the jackpot,” he says, with “a job I love in a region that’s top rate.”
Formerly interim provost and vice president for academic affairs at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Finley eagerly accepted the North Central Michigan College job, because North Central is “a phenomenal place” and the region “is a fun place to be.”
But Finley, who grew up in Quincy in southeast Michigan before earning degrees from the University of Michigan and Wayne State University, understands the challenges of the community college is about more than geography. Providing meaningful education and training to students who do not always look like traditional students, and sometimes students who struggle to afford higher education, is the test.
Of 28 community colleges in Michigan, North Central has the third highest number of students receiving needs-based Pell Grants.
“Even this setting,” he says of North Central, “can be out of reach” financially to some students. A primary motivation for Finley, therefore, is to make certain North Central “is affordable and accessible to all” because “there are bright minds everywhere.”
With administrative experience at Trine University in Indiana, as well as his time at Lake Superior, Finley is versed in both the challenges and opportunities of higher education.
“In this digital, interconnected, global environment” today, the goal must be “preparing (students) to thrive in our environment,” he explains. “My mantra is ‘students first, community focus.’”
Finley points to the partnerships between local high schools and North Central in the Early College program as an example of how the community college is meeting the needs of a changing student population.
“This lets them step into college level learning before stepping into college level living,” he explains.
He also points to North Central’s nursing and allied health programs as important to the college’s continued growth in the region, noting how these programs support students in fields that continue to grow, not only within but also beyond the region.
“I continue to listen to stakeholders ... to better understand how North Central might best fulfill its mission of improving lives via higher education, which will in-turn improve the communities in which we reside.”
The new president adds, “I’m doing my homework to understand how we best serve the Tip of the Mitt region in the decade ahead.”
Finley has goals that go beyond the classroom as well. He points to STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) as needs in the community.
“If we are to continue to thrive as a community,” he explains, “we need these. We need to provide these opportunities to students.”
In addition, Finley believes offering more shorter courses and workshops will continue to appeal to more mature, non-degree students.
When it comes to his free time, Finley and wife, Heidi Reichenbach Finley, an artist, enjoy biking and both downhill and cross country skiing.
“When the days grow shorter, I love genealogy, and have since I was a teen,” he adds.
The Finleys are empty-nesters with a twist. Daughter Anna and son Erik are still both students at Lake Superior. Finley says he and Heidi joke about “leaving (the kids) in the nest” while the couple moved south to their new home just outside Petoskey.
Though every new position, particularly one with so much public expectation, brings challenges, Finley says his transition is being eased because “there are so many great folks who have been remarkably welcoming” at North Central and the surrounding area.
Written By By Glen Young