Addressing Rural Industry and Student Needs through the Manufacturing of a Community College and University Partnership in Mechatronics and Robotics Systems

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



Department of Applied Computing; Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences


Meeting the employment needs of regional industries can be difficult in any environment, but doing so in rural locales represents an especially challenging, yet critically important, mission. Community colleges are generally well-suited to the task of producing graduates with the necessary skill sets for entering the workforce and meeting this demand, but rural institutions face a major barrier in the form of insufficient resources to purchase equipment, hire qualified staff, and provide facilities to support multifarious academic and technical programs. Additional challenges such as a lack of enrollment, student demographic homogeneity, and geographic isolation also disproportionately impact rural higher education. Faced with these challenges in 2014, Bay de Noc Community College (Bay College) developed an innovative partnership with a regional university to leverage economies of scale through the sharing of talent, resources, and even students, in order to address local workforce needs in the area of Mechatronics and Robotic Systems. This partnership has resulted in a stackable degree program that provides students with multiple exit points, the development of non-credit workshops for other educational faculty and incumbent workers, and even the creation of robotic simulation software.

Now, three years after the advent of this partnership, Bay College and Michigan Technological University are able to share their model of collaboration with other rural and urban communities to demonstrate how effective partnering between the two-year and four-year levels of higher education can alleviate many of the challenges that afflict community colleges, especially those from a rural environment. Co-developing curriculum, working with the same equipment, utilizing elective options effectively, and creating clear articulation agreements have all proven to be successful strategies for creating stackable credentials that cross institutional barriers. Furthermore, the work of these institutions has led to insights surrounding future improvements that can be implemented, such as by creating student-level partnerships that completely break down geographic, demographic, and philosophical barriers between community colleges and universities. This paper provides an overview of this partnership, a description of the successful strategies that should be scaled up elsewhere, and a researched discussion of how student-level partnerships may be the next big step for rural community colleges.

Publication Title

2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition