A tradition of success

Bay College is more than a community college. It is home to thousands of students each year, a place for personal growth and enrichment, a training center for workforce development, and an open campus for all to learn. Bay is the Way!


It started with a dream and a $100,000 bequest to establish a junior college in Escanaba, MI. After years of discussion, a feasibility study confirmed the need and the community voted on November 6, 1962, to establish a community college. Bay de Noc Community College (commonly known as Bay College) was born. Classes started with limited renovations and resources in the vacated Escanaba High School Fall of 1963. Bay’s first President even taught a class in his office. 133 full-time and 100 part-time students registered for the first semester paying $5 per credit hour in tuition.

The first graduating class in 1965 was awarded 36 associate degrees and 25 nursing certificates. Norsemen intercollegiate sports debuted in 1968 and many student clubs were created, including the Bay Beacon newspaper. As programming increased, enrollment quadrupled, and the need for expansion was apparent. After consideration of five final sites, a Science-Technical building was constructed in 1969 on the new 150-acre North Campus, a plot gifted from the City of Escanaba and ancestral land of the Anishinaabe people.


Campus boomed with enrollment Fall, 1970, at 700 students, doubling through the decade. From modest beginnings and a limited curriculum, Bay College expanded course offerings in response to the needs of the local communities served, attained accreditation, waived tuition for senior citizens, expanded student activities including Battle of the Bands in the cafeteria, and hosted the first Native American pow wow on campus. Campus buildings were constructed including the Catherine Bonifas, Gymnasium, Student Center, Apartments, and Practical & Fine Arts (now Health & Technology). Four-person apartments rented for $75 per month.

An important partner in the quest for resources was the Bay de Noc Community College Foundation. The Foundation, established in 1972 as an independent 501(c)3 non-profit corporation, exists solely to support the educational needs of Bay College. In fulfilling its mission, private giving from individuals, organizations and businesses support student scholarships and funds to catapult the learning environment. Four student scholarships were developed and awarded the first year, through the years growing to over 300 scholarships.


Bay College grew to be known in the region for its superior teaching and abundant learning, serving thousands of credit and non-credit students each year. The College continues its tradition of providing occupational programs and career technical education (CTE) aimed at giving students the skills to enter the work force. Transfer courses and programs also expanded allowing students to begin their post-secondary education and explore career interests at Bay College, later completing bachelor and master degree programs at partnering universities.

With the advent of portable computers, Bay College added its first computer lab in 1982, plus a new Learning Resource Center in 1986. Bay also expanded its regional footprint in 1983, offering high demand degree programs, initially nursing courses, in Dickinson County. With growth, a 25-acre parcel was donated to Bay College, and with the help of the Dickinson County community and state funding, a beautiful new West Campus opened in Fall 2007.


With the expansion of technology, Bay College launched its first college website, email accounts, and management information system, automating and integrating registration, financial aid, admissions, and business processes, including online registration and student access. Interactive television (iTV) classrooms were added and Bay offered its first online learning course in 1999, Rhetoric & Composition. Within two years, Bay College offered 25 online courses, and became a national leader in online learning. The first federal TRiO grant was awarded providing over 150 first-generation, low income students additional support.

The Joseph Heirman University Center opened in 1998 with the support of local voters. This gave Bay students and community members the opportunity to complete university degrees while remaining within the community. The Center also offers conference space on campus for internal and community use, and is home to Lake Superior State University’s (LSSU) Escanaba Center. The YMCA moved onto campus, offering recreational programming and a swimming pool. Bay College entered the 1998 Guinness Book of World Records with the world’s largest tricycle built by computer aided design (CAD) students, followed by many years of records including the world’s largest skateboard, yo-yo, and golf tee.


The new century rang in many changes at Bay College, including a new torch logo and the first woman president. Bay opened doors to the first Michigan Technical Education Center (M-TEC), hosting more than 40,000 visits each year within a variety of conference, technical training, professional development, and meeting opportunities for working age adults across the Upper Peninsula. Classes in Dickinson County moved to a larger facility on Carpenter Avenue with 432 students enrolled in Fall 2003. In response to growth, a 25-acre parcel of land was donated to Bay College, and with the help of the Dickinson County community and state funding, a beautiful new West Campus opened Fall 2007.

Main Campus debuted the John & Melissa Besse Performing Art Center in 2008 as a result of a multi-million dollar gift. The Besse Center, now the main entrance of campus, hosts a vast array of events including art shows, concerts, speakers, comedians, and performances. In conjunction, Bay College became home to the Robert Addison art collection, student services expanded, and the cafeteria transformed into a friendlier student space, Café Bay. The Besse Recreation Complex was added, including community soccer fields, walking trails and a labyrinth.


Record enrollment dawned the year 2010 with 2,811 students and tuition approached $100 per credit hour. With the work of grant initiatives, state funding and private gifts, the learning environment at Bay College was recreated to advance student success. Supplemental instruction, co-advising, open educational resources (OER), a digital graphic arts lab, and a health care simulation center with high fidelity patient training mannequins were added. Career tech programs expanded with the addition of welding space and simulation, robotic arms, mechatronics/robotics and EMT/paramedic programs, online water technology courses and more. The center of Main Campus was renovated to house student support services and library, now the HUB. This included an outside courtyard complete with native plants, sculptures and a veterans’ memorial. Interactive classrooms, modernized labs and study spaces were added to the Math-Science building. Both campuses became smoke-free and food pantries were created to minimize food insecurities.

50 years of success was celebrated in Fall 2012 with a Birthday Bash and Golden Gala. A new logo was introduced two years later representing the area’s local geography and student journey, replacing the torch logo of years past. Team spirit was revived in 2017 with the reintroduction of athletics, and Bay College once again became home to the Norse. The gymnasium was renovated and renamed the Physical Education Complex (PEC).


Leading through a global pandemic starting in March, 2020, required herculean efforts to quickly adapt teaching modalities which allowed students to finish their courses and business operations to continue remotely. Bay’s commitment to our local and regional healthcare partners did not waver during this time of crisis; the College donated needed nursing equipment and delivered healthcare programs when our community needed trainings the most, including a new Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) program. Federal funds allowed for significant infrastructure advancements associated with the coronavirus including automation, technology, air handling, security, and student housing. After 20 years, workforce training integrated on campus and the M-TEC facility became the YMCA’s new home. Campus was rebranded, strengthening belonging and the Bay College spirit.


Bay is a top-ranked college and nationally recognized Achieving the Dream Leader College of Distinction for the surmountable work of faculty and staff encircling student success. Collaboration with high schools, universities and business partners evolve to meet community educational needs and economic expansion. This includes expanding high school dual-enrollment course offerings, Early College partnerships, university agreements for seamless transfer, competency-based credentials, credit for prior learning, workforce training, holistic services, and enrichment programming. Bay has a strong history of success and a stronger future as your community college.

It is all in the mission:  Student Success. Community Success. Culture of Success.