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Building Upon a Rich Legacy


Davenport University debuted in Grand Rapids in 1866, just 16 years after the city was incorporated.  Following many decades of growth and transformation, Davenport has become a leading institution of higher education with campuses across the state of Michigan helping students achieve their career goals in business, technology and health professions. 

Founded as Grand Rapids Business College by Conrad G. Swensburg, a Union Army veteran fresh out of service following the Civil War, the college held its first classes on Jan. 25, 1866, with 16 students registered for courses in bookkeeping, penmanship, business law and arithmetic – the standard office skills of the day.

M.E. Davenport Era

After operating under various names and in several locations in downtown Grand Rapids, the institution was on the brink of closing its doors in 1910 when a new teacher, Michael E. Davenport, saved the day. Rallying the remaining staff, he kept the doors open and assumed control of the school that would soon bear his name.  Under Davenport's leadership, the school expanded statewide over the next several decades and became a non-profit institution in 1954.  The reputation of the school grew within the community as its graduates assumed positions of leadership in business.  M.E. Davenport faithfully served the institution as president until his passing in 1959, leaving a solid legacy on which his successor could build. 

Statewide Growth

Robert W. Sneden succeeded M.E. Davenport as president. Sneden attended Davenport-McLachlan Institute (now Davenport University) from 1937 to 1940.  While serving in the army during World War II he was married to Davenport’s daughter Margaret. After the war he began his professional career at Davenport in a variety of roles.  He served with distinction as president from 1959 until his retirement in 1977, adding campuses statewide, expanding academic programming for students, and achieving accreditation through North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. 

Degree Expansion

When the reins of presidential leadership passed to Donald W. Maine in 1977, Davenport continued to build on the rich traditions and legacy of its past to prepare students to become the business and community leaders of tomorrow. Under Maine's leadership, Davenport developed from a college offering only associate degree programs to a fully-accredited university providing undergraduate, graduate and online degrees. Maine served as president and chancellor from 1977 to 2000, introducing bachelor's programs in the 1980s and master's programs in the 1990s.  

Creation of Davenport University

Under the leadership of Randolph Flechsig, president from 2000 to 2009, Davenport’s three separate colleges -- Davenport College, Detroit College of Business and Great Lakes College -- were unified into one Davenport University. Flechsig led development of the W.A. Lettinga Campus south of Grand Rapids, which is Davenport’s only residential campus and serves as home base for the University’s administration. Flechsig also reintroduced Davenport’s athletics program, which today includes 31 men’s and women’s teams in a variety of sports, including national championship teams in hockey, lacrosse, rugby, competitive cheer, and soccer. Affiliated with the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), Davenport competes in the Wolverine Hoosier Athletic Conference (WHAC) and has won the WHAC All-Sports Trophy the past four years.

New Visions for Davenport

Under the leadership of President Richard J. Pappas, Ed.D., Davenport University has undergone a quality transformation. Through the execution of its Vision 2015 long-range strategic plan, student success improved tremendously and DU's graduation rate has more than doubled. In recent years, record highs have been recorded in student and graduate satisfaction as well as philanthropic giving to the University. A new campus was launched in Lansing and the Peter C. Cook Center for graduate studies opened in downtown Grand Rapids.The College of Urban Education was created and the Master of Urban Education program launched in 2015. Other new academic programs include the University’s first doctorate (in Physical Therapy), master's degrees in nursing, occupational therapy, technology management, and more, plus the new Competency-based MBA and the Executive MBA. Davenport launched the Employment Guarantee for its accounting program, one of the first such guarantees in the nation. The Farmers Insurance Athletic Complex was created on 68th Street and further expanded in 2015 to accommodate the University's football team, which will begin competition in 2016.  

Vision 2020 was announced in the summer of 2015, calling for accelerated student outcomes and even higher levels of quality in all University operations while keeping its tuition among the lowest of all private, non-profit institutions in Michigan. The pace of change also continues to accelerate. Examiners from the Michigan Performance Excellence Award program conducted a site visit following Davenport's very first application for the quality award, landing DU on the Honor Roll -- only the second college or university ever to be recognized this way. Ground was broken for the construction of the new Donald W. Maine College of Business facility at the W.A. Lettinga Campus, and the University announced more than 80 percent of the $25 million "Investing in the Vision Campaign" goal had been achieved. New partnerships with Kalamazoo Valley Community College and Mott Community College were announced, providing new access to graduating community college students through the University Centers at those institutions. A new campus for the Detroit metro area is being explored, and Davenport's online Global Campus continues to roll out cutting-edge improvements. As 2016 began, the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) voted Davenport in as a new member, contingent upon NCAA Division II approval.

Through Vision 2015 and now Vision 2020, Davenport continues to write new chapters in its history, even as it celebrates its 150th Anniversary in 2016. With a focus on preparing students to succeed in growth careers of the 21st century, Davenport eagerly embraces a future of growth and new opportunities while also understanding and honoring the rich legacy of its storied past.