Three Rivers Community College, Southeast set up joint degree program

Saturday, May 2, 2009

POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. -- In an effort to leave their rocky past behind, officials at Three Rivers Community College and Southeast Missouri State University signed an agreement to establish a joint bachelor's degree program in social work Friday.

"We look forward to this as just the beginning," said Southeast president Dr. Ken Dobbins.

While the schools already have similar joint initiatives in place, this is the first new program started since Three Rivers sued Southeast in 2005.

"We worry too much about territory and politics when it's really about the people," said incoming Three Rivers president Dr. Devin Stephenson. Stephenson, who starts the new position in July, previously served as the vice president of external affairs for Bevill State Community College in Alabama.

The social work program is the first to be taught by Southeast faculty at the college in Poplar Bluff. The other programs, which include elementary education, psychology and communication, involve teleconferencing and web-based courses.

Starting next year, Stephenson said, Three Rivers will offer 69 credit hours toward a 120-credit-hour bachelor of science in social work. He said the college added three new classes and retooled another to accommodate the new program and stay in line with accreditation standards.

Dobbins said Southeast professors will teach the remaining upper-level courses in Poplar Bluff. For those courses, he said, professors will hold longer classes once a week. Dobbins said the program will meet a growing demand from agencies in the region for more social workers with bachelor's degrees.

"There are a lot of alumni in this area already working," he said.

During the signing, school officials talked about their past differences and how they will start to work together.

"It is my desire, as the incoming president, for this day to signify a new beginning in our relationship with Southeast Missouri State," Stephenson said.

In 2005, Southeast eliminated Three Rivers' courses from its centers in Sikeston, Mo., Kennett, Mo., and Malden, Mo. Three Rivers sued Southeast for breach of contract and opened its own centers at the three locations. The college eventually dropped the lawsuit in June.

Brad Barwick, director of student services at Three Rivers, said the joint programs were maintained during the legal battle.

"We've always worked together at a student service level," Barwick said. He said the college is looking into similar collaborations with Southeast on other programs, including agriculture.

Dobbins said Southeast tried unsuccessfully to start new programs since the lawsuit, but Three Rivers took the initiative to establish the social work program.

"This is a good sign for us," he said. "Quite frankly it's a good sign for students."

abusch@semissourian.com

388-3627

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