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Friday, July 20, 2007

Community college would enhance Cape

By Earl H. Norman

Special to Business Today

Although I have been asked to write a letter that in favor of a community college, in reality this is not a pro and con issue; it is really an issue that is pro-community college and pro-Southeast Missouri State University.

Approximately 15 years ago, Southeast chose to abandon open enrollment and become moderately selective in its admission policy. They were not alone in that decision, as Missouri State University (formerly Southwest Missouri State University) in Springfield, Mo., and others joined them in that move. The purpose was to allow the university to offer a more advanced curriculum. Shortly after this decision, other peer universities developed medical schools, law schools, pharmacy schools, engineering schools, etc.

At approximately the same time, Springfield, Mo., converted its Career and Technology Center to a community college so that the students who needed open enrollment and others who were unable to handle the coursework at a four-year university were not abandoned. Unfortunately, that approach was not taken in Cape Girardeau. Instead stop gap measures were initiated that included:

* Remedial courses at Southeast Missouri State.

* Joint ventures with the Career and Technology Center.

* Joint ventures with Three Rivers Community College and Mineral Area Community College.

* Establishment of satellite campuses.

* Southeast Hospital's School of Nursing & Allied Health.

Many students have, on their own, chosen to attend Shawnee Community College in Ullin, Ill.

Although each measure has some merit, in comparison with Ozark Technical College, the community college in Springfield, Mo., they fail to provide an easy-to-navigate, comprehensive answer.

Ozark Technical College has nearly 10,000 students, including 1,600 A+ students where tuition is fully paid by the state, and they are in the process of constructing a campus at Ozark, Mo., that will accommodate an additional 12,000 students. At the same time their four-year public university has grown to more than 20,000 students and has become Missouri State University with many added courses of study.

Clearly for a student who needs open enrollment the solution that Springfield, Mo., has adopted is much simpler than the multi-faceted solution provided locally in Cape Girardeau. The community college concept maintains a closer relationship with the business community and as a result is able to manage a broad array of careers that would meet the needs of our local area. A significant percentage of students from a community college will continue on with their education at Southeast and will become successful business leaders.

I also believe that education should be viewed as an industry, a very important one. Currently Springfield, Mo., has 151,980 residents with more than 40,000 students who attend various universities and colleges in and around their city. A community college would supply between 300 and 400 jobs for our region and would be extremely beneficial to our community from that standpoint.

I believe a comprehensive study of this issue should be the first step, but we should not abandon the numerous open enrollment students and the 45 percent of Southeast students who fail to complete their degree. Also, it is time to free up Southeast to provide programs in advanced degrees such as pharmacy, engineering, law and biotechnology to fill high-level career opportunities in our region. By working together we can provide an improved system for educating ALL residents of Southeast Missouri.

Earl H. Norman is chairman and CEO of Benton Hill Investment Company in Cape Girardeau.


Study needed to justify community college

By Dr. Ken Dobbins

Special to Business Today

The Southeast Missourian has asked for comments from Southeast Missouri State University concerning the possibility of creating a community college district to serve the Cape Girardeau region. The University absolutely has no objection to the discussion of such a possibility and supports conducting a comprehensive post-secondary education needs analysis as outlined by Dr. Robert Stein, Commissioner of Higher Education, during a recent meeting in Cape Girardeau.

Such a study would identify the educational needs of the local citizenry and the educational needs of the labor force as perceived by our local businesses. Since Southeast Missouri State University has always been committed to providing access to post-secondary programs to our citizens and to developing the economy of this area, we welcome the results of this educational needs assessment and look forward to analyzing the data.

As background, the Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education (CBHE) has established a process for adding community colleges to the Missouri public higher education system. Basically, the process requires the following: (1) submission of a petition; (2) conducting a needs assessment survey to include educational interests of citizens and manpower needs; (3) preparation of a projection of the possible tax levy needed to fund the first five years of operation; (4) a projection of the probable capital expenditures needed for the first 10 years; and (5) approval by the proposed community college district's voters.

If the creation of the district is approved by the voters, the new district is authorized by statute to levy up to a certain maximum property tax without further voter approval. For example, if all of Cape Girardeau County were included in the proposed community college district, based on the total assessed valuation of the county's school districts, property owners could be assessed almost $1.8 million each year under state statutes -- 20 cents per $100 of the current $893 million assessed valuation.

Additionally, the study must provide evidence that the new school would have an enrollment of at least 1,000 full time equivalent students within five years. There are several other provisions which can be reviewed on the CBHE web site at http://www.sos.mo.gov/adrules/csr/curren....

Another critical provision in the CBHE policy states that if the CBHE determines that a need does exist for additional post-secondary services, the Coordinating Board is required to determine whether existing agencies can provide the identified services.

If the study were to show that there are post-secondary educational needs that are not presently being met in the Cape Girardeau region, the University would welcome an opportunity to be a part of the solution ? either by adding programs on our campus or perhaps by "brokering" academic programs that could be provided in the Cape Girardeau area by partner institutions such as Mineral Area College. Such a solution to addressing unmet needs, if any, might be much more efficient and cost effective than creating another institution with administrative and teaching positions as well as new buildings to be funded in large part by local property taxes.

It may not be widely known that a significant number of community college-type services are already available in our immediate area.

In Cape Girardeau, many associate of applied science (A.A.S.) two-year degrees are available. The CBHE has authorized Southeast to offer associate degrees in computer technology, automated manufacturing, micro-computer systems, technical graphics, computer numerical control machining, and child care guidance. Based on the needs of regional employers, Southeast has collaborated with Mineral Area College, which provides at the Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center A.A.S. degrees in automotive technology, automotive collision technology, construction technology, graphic arts, HVAC, culinary arts, respiratory therapy, industrial maintenance, and welding technology.

Additional associate degrees are offered by the Southeast Missouri Hospital College of Nursing and Health Sciences in the fields of nursing (including an LPN to R.N. program) and radiological technology. Southeast Missouri State University cooperates with these other fine institutions by providing most of the general education courses required for their degrees.

In addition, the university provides access to undergraduate education for area students who do not meet Southeast's "moderately selective" admission criteria by offering those students the "Step Up to Southeast" program. This program has been established to ensure students will be successful doing college work. "Step Up to Southeast" students enroll for their first semester in Southeast general education classes at the Career and Technology Center and/or at the regional campuses in Sikeston, Perryville, Malden and Kennett. Based on their success, these students can then be admitted to a full four-year program or a two-year A.A.S. program on Southeast's Cape Girardeau campus.

One other little-understood fact is that financial aid available for many of these two-year programs includes A+ or similar scholarships. A+ qualified graduates from local high schools can receive a Southeast scholarship similar to A+ program aid if they are enrolled in A.A.S. programs on Southeast's Cape Girardeau campus or attend full-time at a Southeast regional campus. Additionally, A+ qualified graduates are eligible for the state's A+ scholarship through Mineral Area College for A.A.S. programs offered at the Career and Technology Center and other area locations.

In addition, the Missouri Access Scholarship Program approved by the Missouri Legislature and Gov. Matt Blunt this year will offer significant amounts of aid to students with unmet financial need. We estimate this new program will provide need-based aid to as many as 1,900 Southeast students in the fall of 2007, compared to only 300 during the 2006-07 school year.

To summarize, the purpose of the CBHE's educational needs analysis is to determine the area's post-secondary education needs and to ascertain if those needs are being met. At the conclusion of the study, we look forward to being a part of the discussion on unmet post-secondary education needs. In the meantime, we will continue working with Mineral Area College and the Southeast Missouri Hospital College of Nursing Health and Health Sciences to continue bringing to our service region a variety of both two-year and four-year post-secondary educational opportunities as outlined above.

Dr. Ken Dobbins is president of Southeast Missouri State University.

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