Report: Centers meeting higher ed demands

Monday, July 2, 2007

The battle for students between Southeast Missouri State University and Three Rivers Community College and the resulting establishment of rival Bootheel education centers wasn't a waste of money, a state report says.

The report from Missouri Department of Higher Education staff to the Coordinating Board for Higher Education concludes that the rival centers or campuses are meeting the higher education needs of students in the region.

According to the report, the money spent to operate the centers and instruct students "seems reasonable." Such expenses, the report said, "do not appear to constitute inefficient use of funds."

But the data also shows that both schools have yet to make a profit in the operation of their competing education centers.

Southeast had to subsidize its three Bootheel centers by $762,686 in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2006. Southeast's centers are in Sikeston, Malden and Kennett, Mo.

Poplar Bluff-based Three Rivers ended up nearly $112,000 in the red in the operation of its three centers in the same communities, the college reported to the state.

Southeast president Dr. Ken Dobbins said that although the university still isn't making money in the operation of its three Bootheel centers, it's losing less money than it was previously.

Dobbins said the university at one time had to subsidize the centers by nearly $1 million annually.

Southeast spent $3.27 million to operate its three centers in fiscal 2006. Revenue totaled just more than $2.5 million.

But Dobbins said he believes Southeast will break even on its three Bootheel campuses within two years.

"It will come from higher enrollment," he said. Larger classes will mean increased revenue from student fees without added teaching costs, Dobbins said.

Three Rivers spent $853,334 to operate its centers in Sikeston, Malden and Kennett. Revenue generated by those three centers totaled $741,420, according to the report.

Dr. Larry Kimbrow, executive vice president and vice president of academic affairs at Three Rivers, said some of the expenses were start-up costs involved in opening its centers in fall 2005 after Southeast kicked it out of the university-operated centers.

"They evicted us from the centers, and we had to start from scratch," he said.

The annual data reported to the state shows that Southeast is spending more money to educate a full-time student than Three Rivers.

Southeast's expenses amounted to $4,502 per full-time equivalent student at its Bootheel campuses compared to $3,200 for Three Rivers at its Sikeston, Malden and Kennett centers.

"What it suggests to me is we are a very cost-effective institution," Three Rivers' Kimbrow said. "That is why we are able to have lower tuition."

Dobbins said Southeast pays higher salaries to its faculty.

The state report said Southeast relied mainly on full-time faculty at its three Bootheel centers while Three Rivers primarily employed part-time faculty at its centers.

"The spotlight has been on them," higher education commission Dr. Robert Stein said of the two schools.

"It will continue to be on them," Stein said the two schools have been instructed to continue making annual reports indefinitely to the coordinating board on the operation of the centers.

According to the latest data, full-time equivalent undergraduate enrollment -- based on 30 credit hours per student -- totaled more than 900 at Southeast's and Three Rivers' centers in Sikeston, Malden and Kennett in fiscal 2006.

The actual number of students was higher because some students didn't take a full load of classes, officials said.

The report showed that Southeast benefited most from evicting Three Rivers in terms of enrollment. The number of undergraduate full-time equivalent students at the university's three centers combined nearly doubled from little more than 300 to more than 600 from fiscal 2005 to fiscal 2006, the report said.

The number of full-time equivalent students served by Three Rivers in its new centers in Sikeston, Malden and Kennett totaled more than 200 less than in 2005 when Three Rivers was sharing classroom space with Southeast.

Southeast and Three Rivers shared the teaching load at Southeast's centers in Malden, Kennett and Sikeston for years. But Southeast terminated its partnership in 2005.

Three Rivers accused Southeast of breaking a contractual agreement.

Southeast said Three Rivers wasn't paying sufficient rent. Three Rivers sued Southeast. The lawsuit is pending.

In fall 2005, Three Rivers opened its own education centers in Sikeston, Kennett, Malden, Bernie and Campbell and a sixth center in the University of Missouri's Delta Center at Portageville.

Since then, the community college has closed its Bernie center and turned its Campbell center into a night school.

The state report focused largely on the competing centers in Sikeston, Kennett and Malden in comparing data from the two schools.

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