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 inspiration, a center for workforce training, and an engaging community hub open to all. 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 local 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, families, 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, investments in education have grown, buildings built, programs added and scholarships awarded, now exceeding 300 and totaling over one-half million dollars in scholarships annually to help students minimize financial gaps. 


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 continued its tradition of providing occupational programs and career technical education aimed at giving students the skills to directly enter the workforce. Transfer courses and programs also expanded allowing students to begin their post-secondary education and explore career interests at Bay College, later completing bachelor, master, and professional degree programs at partnering universities.

With the advent of portable computers, Bay College added its first computer lab in 1982, plus a new library, known as the Learning Resource Center in 1986. This brought new study spaces and expansion to campus. Campus was booming. Certificate and degree programs were added to meet the growth and demands of the local workforces and beyond. Bay also expanded its regional footprint in Dickinson County, offering full degree programs starting with nursing. In response to growth, a 25-acre parcel of land was generously donated to Bay College, and with the help of the Dickinson County local and state funding, a beautiful new campus in Iron Mountain was built and opened 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 supporting a millage. This gave Bay students and community members the opportunity to complete university degrees while remaining within the area. 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 an indoor swimming pool. Bay College entered the 1998 Guinness Book of World Records with the world’s largest tricycle built by computer aided design 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 female president. Bay opened doors to the initial Michigan Technical Education Center, hosting more than 40,000 visits each year within a variety of conference, continuing education, technical training, and professional development 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.

Main Campus debuted the John & Melissa Besse Performing Art Center in 2008 as a result of a generous multi-million dollar gift. The Besse Center became the main entrance to campus, hosts a vast array of events including concerts, speakers, comedians, movies, and performances and encompasses vast gallery spaces with engaging art shows on display. Bay College is home to the world-renown Robert Addison art collection and an extensive permanent art collection in part made possible by an endowment held in the Bay College Foundation. Student services was renovated and the cafeteria transformed into a friendlier student space, Café Bay. The Besse Recreation Complex was constructed, adding community soccer fields, walking trails and a labyrinth on campus.


Record enrollment dawned in 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 the Escanaba campus was renovated to house student support services and the 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. The Iron Mountain campus added a Student Success Center and technology classrooms which linked to the Escanaba campus.

50 years of success were 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; Bay College once again became home of the Norse. The gymnasium was renovated and renamed the Physical Education Complex (PEC). Both campuses became smoke-free and food pantries were created to help minimize food insecurities.


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 shared needed nursing equipment and delivered healthcare programs when our community needed trainings the most, including certified nursing and medical assistant programs. 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 facility became the YMCA's new home. Indoor and outdoor campus spaces were rejuvenated, strengthening belonging and branding 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 middle college partnerships, university agreements for seamless transfer, competency-based credentials with credit for prior learning to fast track career advancement, 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.