Holden names commission to study higher education

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Though a strong higher education system is vital to Missouri's economic future, the reality of the state's financial situation is that less taxpayer funding is available for colleges and universities.

Seeking input from business, government and community leaders on how to build the system in the face of monetary constraints, Gov. Bob Holden on Monday named a 29-member Commission on the Future of Higher Education. The governor first announced his intention to establish the commission in December.

Holden expects the panel to deliver him workable recommendations by the end of the year on issues such as adequately preparing students for college, improving graduation rates and affordability.

Commission member Bekki Cook of Cape Girardeau, a former Missouri secretary of state, said finding ways to make the system more efficient rather than increasing funding will be a top goal.

"I don't know that we will be looking at funding sources so much as ways to save money at higher education institutions," Cook said. "What we are basically saying is we can't protect everybody's golden cows anymore. We have to be realistic."

Two other Southeast Missourians will serve on the panel -- Reginald Jennings, a Southeast Missouri State University student, and Carter County Presiding Commissioner Gene Oakley. Jennings is the only student on the commission; Oakley the lone county official.

Missouri's lag

Holden said a recent report by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education shows Missouri is lagging behind its neighbors in regard to college enrollment. He said only 39 percent of Missouri high school freshmen were attended college within four years, compared to 48 percent in Illinois and 45 percent in Kansas.

"I am firmly convinced the most important step our state can take to improve the overall and long-term growth in our economy is to increase the number of Missourians successfully completing college," Holden said.

The commission's work will be funded by a grant from the Pew Charitable Trust, which is providing a $1.1 million grant Missouri will share with three other, as-yet-unnamed states. The purpose of the grant is the lay the groundwork for developing a national agenda for improving higher education.

R. Crosby Kemper III, chairman and chief executive officer of UMB Financial Corp. of Kansas City, will head the Missouri commission. Another notable member is Charles Burson, general counsel for Creve Couer-based Monsanto Co. and former Kentucky attorney general.

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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