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Studies crucial to community college plans

Friday, July 20, 2007

Workers pour concrete for the Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center's expansion building on Friday, March 30, 200. The addition will house Electrical Trades and Cabinet Making this coming Fall.
(Kit Doyle)
Business leaders have recently suggested the Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center be expanded into a community college to increase educational opportunities and job creation in Southeast Missouri.

Critics, however, said Cape Girardeau already has a university and a community college would only dissipate services and increase the burden on taxpayers.

One thing's agreed. The need for another educational institution must be confirmed first by state studies of the tax base and demand.

"If the need is not there, then the need is not there," said Rich Payne, director of the technology center. "I'm for whatever model serves community and taxpayers the best."

The Missouri Department of Economic Development, in conjunction with the University of Missouri plan a study to outline the job training and post-secondary education needs of the region. Such a study would help determine if there is sufficient numbers of potential students to justify a community college.

In addition, a major economic development bill vetoed by Gov. Matt Blunt included a provision for a regional vocational school district covering Cape Girardeau, Scott, Bollinger, Butler, Stoddard, Wayne, Ripley, New Madrid, Pemiscot, Dunklin and Mississippi counties. The bill required a study by the Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education to determine if there is sufficient interest, tax base and potential students. Blunt is considering a special session to rewrite the bill and the provision could resurface at that time.

Establishing either a vocational school district or a community college would require voter approval of the taxes needed to support it.

Southeast Missouri State University already offers general degrees like liberal arts and English but, according to real estate developer Earl Norman, the college needs to focus more attention on the workforce.

Norman, who's been pushing for a charter school for years, said pharmacies, law firms and hospitals would be more inclinded to hire locally if the university had programs tailored towards the area's job market.

"But the university is able to make that easy quick money out of general studies," said Norman. "It will knock a little hole in the revenue."

Dennis Vollink, president of Drury Southwest Inc., said a vocational school wouldn't be a threat to the university but rather an asset.

"They gain off each other," he said. "We've seen it happen in other communities and the area becomes a center for education."

The end result is more jobs, he said, adding that the study would have to support this theory before a vote is made. "You never want to suggest something to be detrimental to the university."

Retired pharmacist Milton George said the university should add a program for pharmacists but that doesn't mean any programs need to be taken away, he said.

"I consider a community college a lot of duplicated services that would cost more to the taxpayers," George said.

Bob Hahn, vice president of development for Midamerica Hotels, said some students are intimidated by a larger college and a community college could get them into the education system so they could reach their full potential. For some community college students, the next step would be a university education, he said, while many would immediately move to the workforce.

"I think it's a fair idea to pursue," he said. "I think a more informed and educated community has to be good overall."

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