The Community College Option, Part 6: Area coalition looks at Greene County's success with community college, university

Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Ozark Technical Community College's Lincoln Hall. Ozarks opened in 1991.

Editor's note: This is the last in a series examining higher education issues in the Cape Girardeau area.

After Ozarks Technical Community College opened in Springfield, Mo., in 1991, its enrollment and facilities soon started expanding.

Voters around Springfield opted to convert the Graff Area Vocational Technical Center into a community college in 1990. Ozarks, which started with three buildings in Springfield, now has two campuses and education centers in Waynesville, Lebanon and Branson.

Part of the ongoing community college debate in Cape Girardeau focuses on what other institutions have done to expand higher education. A coalition of 11 business and education leaders has been meeting since 2007 to address higher education needs in the Cape Girardeau area.

It commissioned a study last year to assess the needs of the region. One of the five options mentioned in the study outlined the conversion of the Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center into a community college, similar to what happened in Springfield nearly 20 years ago. One member of the coalition, businessman Earl Norman, said he would like to duplicate Ozarks' success in Cape Girardeau.

However, Ozarks president Dr. Hal Higdon said the situations in Springfield and Cape Girardeau are not the same. Springfield had no other options for worker retraining before the center's conversion.

"I keep hearing people say the similarities are there, but they're not," he said.

When manufacturers, such as Zenith, started leaving the area, voters realized the need to establish a community college, he said.

"The writing was on the wall that a lot of jobs were going to leave Springfield," he said.

Cape Girardeau has associate degree and technical training options, but members of the coalition agree the process of obtaining higher education could be streamlined.

Ozarks developed its student body around the same time Missouri State University, then Southwest Missouri State University, was becoming a more selective institution. The two institutions also worked together to develop a relationship during that time even though the college's presence had a direct effect on the university's enrollment.

Declined at first

Enrollment of Missouri State University freshmen declined after the community college opened, said Don Simpson, assistant vice president for enrollment management at Missouri State.

In 1991, the university had 3,064 entering freshmen. By 1995, there were 2,573 entering freshmen. Overall enrollment dropped from 19,504 in 1991 to 16,439 in 1995. Simpson said the university has since experienced growth during 10 of the last 12 years. Fall 2008 enrollment was 21,688.

Ozarks opened with 1,198 degree-seeking students. Last year, the college enrolled 11,167 students at its campuses and education centers.

Simpson said Ozarks provided an option for students who did not meet the newer, more competitive standards at the university.

"The fact that they are here has certainly made it easier for us to achieve that without alienating our constituents in the area," he said.

While freshmen numbers dropped, the university saw a significant increase in transfer students, Simpson said. In fall 2008, 1,136 transfer students enrolled in the university, up 7.9 percent from 2007.

He said the number of graduate students also increased throughout the years. During the first five years of the community college, graduate enrollment at the university grew steadily from 1,563 to 1,873.

Simpson said the university loses students who stay at the community college to complete a lower-price degree or to use the state's A+ program, which pays for two years at a community college for qualifying high school students.

"It's just a choice for students that they can make," he said.

The possibility of creating a complementary relationship between Southeast Missouri State University and a community college would benefit higher education in the area, Norman said.

Rich Payne, director of the Career and Technology Center, said classroom space is available to accommodate more programs there. The center offers associate degree programs through Mineral Area College in Park Hills.

Mineral Area president Dr. Steven Kurtz said he would proceed cautiously with additional programs if the coalition chose that option. He said he wanted his college to break even on further investment in Cape Girardeau, keeping in mind that there might be a movement in the future to establish a separate community college taxing district.

The coalition's study, released in April, compared trends in Cape Girardeau and Springfield by analyzing population numbers, university enrollment and education levels of residents. It found that the number of people pursuing an associate degree or some level of college decreased in Cape Girardeau County while it increased in Greene County, where Springfield is located.

Between 1990 and 2007, the number increased by 3.63 percent in Greene County while the number of people seeking the same education level in Cape Girardeau County decreased by 7.78 percent. The study said the disparities were a result of more nontraditional students pursing training opportunities at Ozarks.

Population difference

The study also illustrated the differences between the populations and enrollments at the local four-year university. The population of Greene County is more than three times that of Cape Girardeau County. Missouri State also enrolled about 10,000 more students than Southeast last fall.

Higdon said the population difference will pose the biggest challenge for Cape Girardeau. There is a smaller tax base to draw funding from and a smaller community to feed its growth, he said. Establishing a voter-approved taxing district is a tough sell in a good economy, he said. Instead, institutions should work together to expand programs without preventing duplication.

"Springfield was not a tough sell because they had no options," he said.


Pertinent address:

1001 E. Chestnut Expressway, Springfield, MO

901 S. National Ave., Springfield, MO

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