TRAVERSE CITY — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos visited Traverse City many times, but never went to Northwestern Michigan College.
Until Thursday when she visited NMC’s Great Lakes Maritime Academy and the Great Lakes Culinary Institute as part of her Back-To-School Tour.
DeVos was given a tour of the two programs, and tried her hand steering a ship in the Maritime Academy’s full mission bridge simulator. The ship was a 1,000-foot-long vessel with the pilot house at the back end.
“So you have a lot of anticipating to do,” DeVos said. “Where is the next green buoy? I don’t see it yet.”
During a tour of Lobdell’s teaching restaurant, DeVos stopped to talk to several students who were feeding a lunch crowd at the popular eatery.
The culinary program partnered with the GLMA to train culinary students as cook-mariners, highly paid posts that also fill a critical need in the shipping industry.
“It’s a very relevant program because the need and demand is so great,” DeVos said.
This is DeVos’ third Back-To-School Tour, which is meant to highlight educational freedom and schools that are doing things differently, that provide various pathways to success for students.
The Maritime Academy was selected for the tour because of its career training programs that prepare students for jobs in high demand fields.
The GLMA program is 50 years old and offers two bachelor degree programs in ship navigation and piloting or management of a ship’s engine and mechanical operations.
NMC was the first community college in the state to offer four-year degrees.
DeVos said NMC is a good example of employers and educators coming together to collectively meet the need of students. She said there are not nearly enough educational programs like that today, and schools need to get away from the one-size-fits-all mentality.
“It’s time to try really different things,” she said. “We need a lot more creativity, innovation and focus on the student.”
DeVos, appointed by President Donald Trump in 2017, has long been a supporter of school choice, school voucher programs and charter schools. She has also been a vocal critic of public education.
NMC President Timothy Nelson was pleased that DeVos chose to visit the college as it helps to get the message out about its great programs, he said.
“We live in an era where we’re poised to meet the future,” Nelson said, adding that NMC is ready.
DeVos’ tour is also highlights her Education Freedom Scholarships proposal, which she says will expand education options for students.
The scholarships would be funded by those who want to donate privately.
The program has been criticized as another way to divert public money to private schools, as $5 billion has been set aside in Trump’s 2020 budget to provide tax credits to donors, who would get a $1 tax credit for every dollar donated. The budget has not yet been approved.
DeVos was in Harrisburg, Penn., on Wednesday and was planning to visit a Detroit school on Friday. She plans to visit about 10 schools on the tour.
DeVos has come under some criticism for beginning the tour Monday at St. Marcus Lutheran School in Milwaukee, where the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program is one of four school voucher programs in Wisconsin.
Under the program, state tax dollars can be used to pay for education at private and religious schools in the form of vouchers.