Hillsdale College students and residents of Hillsdale’s community have felt the impact of the growing disconnect between the college and the town it inhabits. In an effort to bridge the gap that separates Hillsdale’s campus bubble with the rest of the community, students have created a credit-card-sized solution: a sleek discount card that will point Hillsdale College students, parents, and alumni off campus and toward local businesses.
During the 2016 Student Leadership Workshop, held Aug. 20 through Aug. 25, students brainstormed ways in which they can call the town of Hillsdale their home.
Having noticed the ongoing tension between the college and the community, the SLW group will soon implement their plan in order to begin mending the fractured relations.
“I’m excited,” Patti Bailey, owner of Maggie Anne’s, said. “I’m glad that there is some outreach to the college, because I think we need to work on the relations between the college and the town.”
According to junior Zane Miller, the SLW used a problem-solving technique to identify the many causes of the disconnect between Hillsdale students and Hillsdale citizens. Eventually, the group came to a two-pronged conclusion: a gap exists between all college affiliates and the Hillsdale community because of a lack of awareness about opportunities downtown, and a lack of transportation.
“The problem we identified was there’s not much communication between the ‘town and gown,’” Miller said. “There are a lot of students, even juniors and seniors, who don’t know what’s available downtown because they don’t have a car to explore.”
Miller said that when his group brainstormed, they thought of several ways to address the problem of college students being unaware of what the town offers. Originally, solutions included an uber-like transportation service for college students to encourage them to get off-campus and into the town. However, considering costs and logistics, creating the discount card was inexpensive, easy, and effective.
Miller estimates the discount cards, printed in color and laminated to resemble a credit card, will cost about 40 cents each. He said his group intends to distribute the cards to students for year-round use, to parents for Parents’ Weekend, and to alumni for Homecoming weekend.
“I think it acts as a bridge between campus and community,” Anthony Manno, director of student programs and activities, said. “It shows a willingness from students of the College — after all, it was their idea — that they appreciate and support the efforts of our local businesses. It shows we are proud of where we live and what we have.”
When Miller’s team contacted local businesses about their ‘Dale Deals idea, business owners and managers not only agreed with the group’s concerns but also jumped at the chance to better the situation.
“Many of them expressed concern over the tension that exists and emphasized the need for more unity between the college and the town,” sophomore Elizabeth Stalter said. “One owner even said that they don’t usually do discounts or coupons but they were willing to make an exception because they believe improving the relationship between Hillsdale College and Hillsdale county is so important.”
Bailey said her store currently attracts a market of ages 35 and up. She has recently added brands such as Vera Bradley to Maggie Anne’s stock, hoping to catch the eye of college shoppers.
Bailey said she is hoping the ‘Dale Deals will bring more college-aged customers to Maggie Anne’s, as well as boost the relationship between college and town.
“I think we’re open to anything that helps improve the relations,” Bailey said.
Stalter, though native to California, spent her summer waiting tables in Rosalie’s, a restaurant just outside of Hillsdale’s city limits in Jonesville. She said she connected with the town in a way most students never do through her job.
“I definitely gained a deeper appreciation for the people who live in this town and was really able to see the other side of things — the side many Hillsdale students are deprived of when they get caught in the ‘Hillsdale Bubble,’” Stalter said. “I worked with people who have lived here all their lives and was blessed with the opportunity to hear their stories and learn about the town we live in.”
Miller said he hopes to see the cards distributed by the end of the semester.
“I really think this is the first step toward developing a long lasting, mutually benefitting relationship between Hillsdale College and Hillsdale County,” Stalter said. “Circulation of local business discount cards to students, parents, and alumni will positively affect the economy as well as the reputation of the college.”