Three Rivers president Dr. Devin Stephenson, Jackson city leaders discuss community college options

Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Dr. Devin Stephenson, president of Three Rivers Community College at Poplar Bluff, Mo., speaks at a community reception Tuesday at Jackson City Hall. (Fred Lynch)

Three Rivers Community College president Dr. Devin Stephenson described Jackson as a charming and thriving community that is right for a community college.

Jackson city and school officials greeted Stephenson during a community reception at city hall Tuesday night.

"There is no question that this area needs more pathways to higher education," he said, addressing a crowd of about 50 people. County officials and community members also attended the event.

"Give us some ideas of what we can do for you," Mayor Barbara Lohr said.

She said the city will continue to encourage the college and help with fundraising efforts, if necessary.

Stephenson has been negotiating with Southeast Missouri State University to develop a plan to establish a higher education center. Both institutions are working with a coalition of business and education leaders to create a community college option in the county.

The coalition met last month in a meeting organizers hoped would result in a recommendation to the Coordinating Board for Higher Education. Negotiations will continue and the coalition will meet again Nov. 3 to see if a joint plan is possible.

Stephenson said he is considering three locations in Jackson, including land donated by the city. In August, the Jackson Board of Aldermen approved a donation of 15 acres on U.S. 61 near Interstate 55, if the college locates there.

Stephenson said he would also consider working with the Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center, Saint Francis Medical Center and Southeast Missouri Hospital as teaching sites. He said Jackson has been aggressive and proactive in welcoming the college.

"It's a good location," he said. "A growing location that can serve the entire county."

The 11-member coalition, which includes Southeast, Three Rivers and Mineral Area College, funded a $70,000 study analyzing higher education in the county.

Brian Gerau, executive director of the Jackson Chamber of Commerce, said Jackson took the study results seriously and started considering different options to meet student need.

In May, Gerau met with officials from Drury University about starting a program in Jackson. He said discussions with the Springfield-based private university are continuing, but decisions are on hold until plans with Three Rivers are finalized.

"We want them and we need them," he said. "And we're going to do everything we can to make their transition as smooth as possible."

Paula Johnston said she wishes there had been a better community college option available for her daughter, who attended Shawnee Community College. She said her daughter has a mild form of cerebral palsy and was not ready to attend a four-year college after high school.

"She would not have been able to attend SEMO successfully," she said.

She said her daughter commuted from Jackson to the Illinois college to earn an associate degree in family and consumer science. She went on to earn a bachelor's degree from Southeast.

Having a community college option closer to home is more of an advantage, Johnston said.

"It's economically better," she said. "It's safer for our children."

abusch@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

101 Court St., Jackson, MO

2080 Three Rivers Boulevard Poplar Bluff, MO

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