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SEMO and TRCC: When BFFs Break-Up

Posted Wednesday, September 16, 2009, at 12:00 AM

It's uncomfortable when you're friends with a couple and then that couple breaks up acrimoniously.

The couple -- who are now are a pair of singles -- often expect former friends of the couple to take the side of one of the singles, but neither both. It can be tolerable as a former friend of the couple to be social with either of the new singles individually, but if you happen to run into both of them at a public event, it can be extremely awkward. Whose side do you choose?

It would appear that this is a little like the situation between Southeast Missouri State University and Three Rivers Community College.

A few years ago they were a couple, the educational equivalent of BFFs -- Best Friends Forever. SEMO has been and still is a BFF with another junior college -- Mineral Area -- so it made sense that the University be a BFF with Three Rivers as well.

Things seemed to go smoothly at first. Back in 2004, TRCC agreed to share space at the University's three Bootheel Education centers. Their faculty would teach a number of freshmen and sophomore level classes and in exchange pay the University a facilities-use fee.

But then SEMO sent TRCC the bill for their first semester using the University's facilities. Three Rivers claimed the $61,205 charge was too much and paid SEMO about $10,000 less. SEMO didn't like this and since TRCC refused to pay the disputed amount the University severed its ties with the community college.

From there, the situation deteriorated almost as fast as Paris Hilton un-BFFing her BFF Nicole Richey. Or was it Nicole who un-BFFed Paris? I guess it really doesn't matter.

SEMO's snub didn't appear to phase Three Rivers. They found alternative locations to conduct their classes in Kennett, Malden and Sikeston. And TRCC quickly lawyered-up and sued SEMO for breach of contract. Good ol' litigation, possibly the fastest way to end a friendship.

While the lawyers played their lawyer games, the state commissioner of higher education became involved and spent a year trying to mediate a resolution between the two. He was not successful.

Due in large part to the bitterness between the former BFFs, a coalition was formed in 2007 in which 11 people and organizations pledged seventy grand towards conducting a higher education needs analysis for Cape Girardeau County. Did Cape need a junior college was the $70,000 question. SEMO and TRCC were part of the coalition, of course.

In the spring of 2008, change came to the Three Rivers board of trustees. Its attorney resigned and two board members were not re-elected. By June, Three Rivers' refreshed board had fired its president and dropped its lawsuit against SEMO. The newspaper in Poplar Bluff published that TRCC squandered $50,000 in legal fees on the feud. How much SEMO spent defending its position was apparently never reported by the news media.

Last November, Three Rivers hired a new president.

This past spring the report commissioned by the coalition was finally released. It confirmed what everyone in the area already knew. Cape Girardeau County could use more higher-education options.

In May relations between the former BFFs seemed to thaw a little. TRCC and SEMO signed an agreement to establish a joint bachelor's degree program in social work.

But then, the sparring that had virtually disappeared between the former BFFs, suddenly gained new vigor.

In August, both SEMO and TRCC proposed competing community college plans to the coalition for Cape Girardeau County. SEMO would work with another member of the coalition and their long-time BFF -- Mineral Area College -- while Three Rivers would go it alone. Both proposals would be three-year trials.

About this same time TRCC got a new BFF in the form of the city of Jackson. The Jackson Board of Alderman approved a 15-acre land donation to Three Rivers if they would build a center in their city. The Alderman apparently felt it was OK to snub SEMO and didn't make them the same offer. I guess Jackson is no longer a BFF with SEMO.

The coalition is scheduled to meet and pick one of these two plans by the end of the month. Three Rivers Community College president Devin Stephenson has been quoted as saying that "A proposal that does not include [Three Rivers] will not be approved."

Some might say that them's fightin' words.

I certainly hope not. We've had enough fighting. We've had enough litigating. Both sides need to put their petty little disagreements in the past and do what we -- the taxpayers -- expect from them.


Showing comments in chronological order
[Show most recent comments first]

I really don't think that the Southeast region needs more higher education opportunities. If you look at the statistics, a vast majority of the jobs around the region do not require a college degree. What good is it to the region to have more colleges when there are no opportunities here and the students end up leaving Cape or the surrounding area to find a job that matches their expectations?

-- Posted by almighty on Wed, Sep 16, 2009, at 1:40 PM

I think we actually do, Almighty, but I didn't say that the area needed more COLLEGE opportunities, just more HIGHER EDUCATION. It just so happens that the two proposals being looked at have both come from colleges.

I think the market could use more technical training. I don't have any hard evidence to back up this belief other than the observation that as the world gets more and more technical, everyone seems to get dumber. Not sure if that makes sense.

I just think there are a whole lot of people in the area who could probably benefit from a wide array of technical training both for their personal and work lives.

I've heard the Career and Technology Center is doing a pretty good job, but is that enough for the area?

The one benefit for having a JuCo would be pricing. Currently SEMO's credit hour is about $209. If you take a three-hour English 101 class, a student will spend close to $700 for that class. That seems kind of ridiculous to me for something they SHOULD HAVE learned in high school.

Basics like that could be handled at a community college for half that amount.

Thanks for reading.

-- Posted by Brad_Hollerbach on Wed, Sep 16, 2009, at 2:07 PM

I haven't looked at any actual numbers, so feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that TRCC's credit hours are VASTLY cheaper than SEMO's. As for Almighty's comment, it's not just about students/job seekers in this area. It's also about bringing people to the area to obtain higher education. Students don't just spend money on classes, you know. They spend money on food and clothing and housing, and all of that money benefits the community in which it's being spent. What we need to benefit the students that are already in this area are more AFFORDABLE higher education opportunities.

-- Posted by MusicMaker on Wed, Sep 16, 2009, at 3:08 PM

TRCC is about half the cost of SEMO. From the Fall 2008 TRCC Quickfacts a full-time in-state student at TRCC paid $1,492 for 12 credits per semester plus additional fees.

Part-time, in-state students paid $110 per credit hour plus fees. I imagine it has either stayed about that for the current year or gone up a little (never down of course).


-- Posted by Brad_Hollerbach on Wed, Sep 16, 2009, at 3:55 PM

I can agree that more educational opportunities are needed, but I don't think a community college is the answer. While offering a more affordable education is a worthy endeavor, Cape and the southeast region simply isn't a large enough area to have a need for two major college presences. If it were a very small community college, then maybe. And if the community college were to focus on specific programs, fill gaps in SEMO's programs and benefit non-traditional students rather than people who were probably going to SEMO anyway, then great.

As far as attracting people outside of the region, I really don't see people traveling to Cape to attend a community college where they will probably have one closer to home.

-- Posted by almighty on Wed, Sep 16, 2009, at 4:26 PM

From the information I have read didn't SEMO request an educational analysis to see if there was a need for another higher ed institution. And didn't this request coincide with SEMO having to turn down students due to insufficient housing? Is this a coincedence or was there a possible stall tactic in order to build more housing for potential students?

The anlaysis was returned with the resuilt stating that additional higher ed was needed. I don't believe this came as any suprise to anyone in the area.

I do believe a community college will attract more people. Individuals from, Cape, Perry, Bollinger and surrounding counties that might not need a 4 yr degree but a two year degree in order to educate and train for thier likely professions. Those individuals might need/want to take the additional 2 yrs (from SEMO) to get a degree. Not everyone needs a 4 yr degree and not everyone is ready to go to a 4 yr institution either. A community college could be used as a primer or prepatory for Semo.

-- Posted by capecounty on Thu, Sep 17, 2009, at 8:40 AM

I don't know about the housing issue. I think I would have remembered SEMO turning down people. I thought they did have to reopen some housing in the old Dearmont for overflow and the University bought Henderson House about that time.

While I think 18 months is a pretty long time for a study of this nature to be conducted, it's really not surprising when you consider the size of the committee. The larger the group, the slower the decisions are to be made. That's why nothing ever seems to get done in Congress.


-- Posted by Brad_Hollerbach on Thu, Sep 17, 2009, at 8:57 AM

"SEMO having to turn down students due to insufficient housing?"

100% false.

-- Posted by devin on Thu, Sep 17, 2009, at 12:50 PM

Fall admissions deferred at SEMO

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Southeast Missourian

Prospective Southeast Missouri State University students applying for campus housing won't be admitted until spring because there's no more room to house them this fall, school officials said Friday.

To date, the university has more than 2,600 students signed up for campus housing this fall, said Bruce Skinner, residence life director at Southeast. That exceeds the record 2,494 students who lived on campus during the 2003-2004 academic year, officials said.

"We are expecting a large freshmen class, in excess of 1,700 students this fall," said Dr. Debbie Below, director of admissions and enrollment management at Southeast.

Southeast expects 1,390 new students to be housed in campus residence halls this fall, up from 1,105 new students last fall semester.

Beginning freshmen or new transfer students with fewer than 57 completed credit hours, who are under 21, unmarried, aren't supporting dependent children, aren't veterans and don't live with their parents are required to live on campus, school officials said.

The university will continue to accept admissions for the fall semester for students within commuting distance of Southeast who aren't requesting campus housing, Below said.

-- Posted by capecounty on Thu, Sep 17, 2009, at 9:24 PM

Not one student was denied admission due to lack of housing, not one.

-- Posted by devin on Fri, Sep 18, 2009, at 2:49 AM

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Brad Hollerbach is the Director of Information Technology for the Southeast Missourian. His opinions are his own and do not reflect those of the newspaper or its editorial board. He writes this blog primarily for his own amusement and to parody the absurdities of the world we live in. He lives with his wife and two cats that don't really care for one another in Cape.

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