Presentation campus marks 10 years

FAIRMONT – Ten years ago, the office for Presentation College’s Fairmont campus was just opening, giving students a couple months to enroll before classes started in August.

About 40 students signed up for that first semester – short of the goal of 75.

Presentation College is well established as a private Christian college at its main campus in Aberdeen, S.D., but its reputation wasn’t known locally. Initially, many people assumed Presentation’s Fairmont campus was a community college, and they often thought it was part of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.

Campus director Traci Lardy is proud of the progress that’s been made since those early years.

“Our quality and our name are known now,” she said, citing local health care providers that seek out Presentation graduates.

With time, enrollment has grown, as well as the number of faculty on site. This spring, the Fairmont campus had 135 students, most of whom are working on their four-year nursing degree. And where there were only a few adjunct professors at first, the school now employs about 15 instructors.

While Presentation is renowned for its nursing program, which is by far the biggest draw for students, the Fairmont campus also has programs for radiation technicians, medical assistants, surgical techs, psychology and biology.

About 30 percent of the student body come from outside a 50-mile radius. Whether they’re native to southern Minnesota or new to the area – and the campus is becoming increasingly diverse – once they start at Presentation, they tend to stay.

“From fall 2012 to spring 2013, we were at 96 percent retention, which is practically unheard of,” Lardy said. “… When we get them here, they stay.”

The school would not be enjoying its current success if not for three men – Fairmont’s economic development director Mike Humpal, Chamber of Commerce director Bob Wallace, and community leader Joe Kurtzman. As a committee, these men led the effort to recruit a college to Fairmont.

“Health care workers were needed, but they were hard to find,” said campus outreach services coordinator Susan Barnes.

Barnes has been at the Fairmont site since it opened, her office located in a tiny room in the Fairmont Elementary School building. The college classes were held at the high school, so they couldn’t start until after 3 p.m., which likely hindered the initial enrollment figures.

“Starting out, we had more non-traditional students,” Barnes said.

The demographics have shifted since then. For fall 2012, the most recent year for which data was available, 67 percent of the Fairmont site’s students were ages 17-24; 26 percent were ages 25-34; and 7 percent were 35 and older.

Presentation College moved the summer of 2004, after the city of Fairmont finished renovations on an old school building that is now known as Southern Minnesota Education Campus, or SMEC for short. Presentation is the largest of several higher education institutions that rent space in the building.

Looking forward, expansion is anticipated.

“Presentation as a whole is planning for growth and expansion,” Lardy said. “We’re working on a strategic plan right now that emcompasses all the campuses.”

A celebration for the 10-year anniversary of the Fairmont campus is scheduled for 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Thursday in the SMEC parking lot. KFMC radio station will be live, with its annual Harley Davidson give-away. Pork chops on a stick, root beer and cake will be served, and a commemorative cup will be available to purchase for $4. All proceeds will go toward nursing scholarships. The building will be open for tours, and door prizes will be given away.