HAMILTON, Ohio — Jade Smallwood of Middletown is like most graduating college seniors, making big choices that will shape the rest of her life. However, the 22-year-old made one of her most significant financial choices right out of high school.
She enrolled at Miami University in Hamilton, which is part of the Miami regional system that includes campuses in Middletown and West Chester.
"I didn't think I would fall in love with it the way I did," Smallwood said.
Despite its 50-year existence, Miami-Hamilton remains a hidden gem, according to university officials. Both they and city planners are hoping to raise the university’s profile as Hamilton continues its 21st-century transformation into a magnet for young professionals.
Tuition at Miami-Hamilton runs less than $6,000 per year, and the institution now boasts 18 bachelor’s degrees that can be earned entirely at the regional campuses.
Smallwood will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in nonprofit and community studies. She plans to work with young people in Middletown.
"I came into the regionals wanting to transfer to a bigger campus like UC (University of Cincinnati) or OU (Ohio University),” Smallwood said. “I didn't want to stay close to home but then as my time at the regionals progressed I ended up changing my major so I could stay at the regionals.”
Lydia Alobwede, 29, is a first-year student from Cameroon who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in information technology.
"Miami is a good university. One thing I like is the size of the classroom. They are small and every student can grab the attention of the teacher and vice versa," Alobwede said.
Elevating the regionals’ profile is a priority for Cathy Bishop-Clark, the associate provost and dean of the Miami regional campuses.
"For a bachelor’s degree you're spending $25K and that of course turns into earning potential for the rest of your life," Bishop-Clark said.
Furthermore, a degree earned at one of the Miami regionals campuses says Miami University, added Bishop-Clark.
"I've had people say to me, ‘I can't come to Miami regionals because they're part of Miami and to get into Miami I need a really high ACT and GPA.’ Miami regionals allows you to come to Miami but we're open admission," Bishop-Clark said.
Current enrollment at Miami-Hamilton, roughly 3,000 students, is down compared with previous years, but Bishop-Clark said there’s a good reason.
"We're in a high level of employment. For regional campuses and for community colleges enrollment tends to go up when unemployment goes up,” Bishop-Clark said. “So the fact that so many people can get jobs right now works against us.”
Both school and city leaders expect those numbers to rise even with the low unemployment. City planners in Hamilton have their sights set on building a new development, near campus, at the foot of the South Hamilton Crossing.
“They’ve been very supportive of our efforts to bring nice apartments to downtown Hamilton,” said Liz Hayden, director of planning. “But we're also looking at doing apartments right adjacent to the university as well.”
Smallwood admitted she wonders what life might have been like attending a different school but said she'll always be happy with the choice she made.
"I definitely did not expect for it to be typical college years or a super fun time. It was like, ‘I'm just making a smart financial decision,’ but it ended up being something that I really enjoyed," Smallwood said.