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WSW: Retiring K-College President Reflects On Accomplishments, Challenges

Kalamazoo College

Kalamazoo College President Wilson-Oyelaran says her retirement comes at a time when liberal arts colleges are facing greater scrutiny. 

She says that’s partially related to cost. But Wilson-Oyelaran says all schools public and private are facing financial challenges. She says the economic downturn and increase in student loan debt, has shifted the focus to getting a job. But she says there is a misperception about the types of degrees that lead to jobs.

Wilson-Oyelaran’s last day as K-College President is June 30th. She sat down with WMUK’s Gordon Evans in her office last week. Jorge Gonzalez will take over July 1st.

Asked about what she’s most proud of, Wilson-Oyelaran says a more diverse student body, and a college that is more student-focused, and does a better job of preparing students for the world they are going to encounter. Wilson-Oyelaran says the college was very strategic in its diversification efforts. She says that included looking at high school populations, and demographic changes. 

Asked about something she wishes had been accomplished, Wilson-Oyelaran says the college has come very close, but not reached its goal of 1500 students. She says they will continue trying to grow efficiently.

Wilson-Oyelaran is the first woman and first African-American president of Kalamazoo College. She says the faculty and staff have also become more diverse at the college. Wilson-Oyelaran says she would encourage women of all back grounds to consider higher education as a career. 

Credit WMUK
Eileen Wilson-Oyelaran - file photo

Beginning last fall, students who received the Kalamazoo Promise could have their tuition and fees covered at Kalamazoo College. Wilson-Oyelaran says it has been wonderful to make K-College an option for people in Kalamazoo. She says it’s reaffirming that a student who grew up in Kalamazoo wants to stay in Kalamazoo.

Funding will continue to be a “real squeeze,” according to Wilson-Oyelaran. She says small liberal arts colleges are being called on to look at the core of what they do. Wilson-Oyelaran says in the future there will likely be more partnerships with other small colleges. She says income inequality means that many students who are college-ready can’t afford to attend college. Wilson-Oyelaran says the generosity of donors is crucial to allowing more students to attend K-College.

Asked about the challenges that lie ahead for higher education, Wilson-Oyelaran says young people are becoming more concerned about larger issues in the world. She says activism is coming on campuses at a time when young people have had few models of civil discourse. Wilson-Oyelaran says anyone can find sources of news that don’t require them to engage with a different point of view. The retiring Kalamazoo College says “It’s gonna be messy, exciting but messy.”

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Gordon Evans became WMUK's Content Director in 2019 after more than 20 years as an anchor, host and reporter. A 1990 graduate of Michigan State, he began work at WMUK in 1996.
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