Cost-sharing pact in works for university

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Prodded by Missouri's higher education commissioner, officials at Southeast Missouri State University and Three Rivers Community College are seeking to iron out a cost-sharing agreement over the operation of three Bootheel education centers.

The Cape Girardeau university and Poplar Bluff, Mo., community college have tentatively agreed to a cost-sharing plan worked out by higher education commissioner Dr. Gregory Fitch, Southeast president Dr. Ken Dobbins and Three Rivers president Dr. John Cooper at a closed-door meeting Monday at the Sikeston Higher Education Center.

But officials at both schools said Friday that some details regarding student services at the Sikeston, Kennett and Malden higher education centers still must be worked out. Both schools' governing boards must approve any agreement before it can be implemented.

The unresolved issues include student registration, financial aid, textbook services and billing, Dobbins said.

"I will not recommend to the board of regents a contract that doesn't have those details involved," Dobbins said.

"We are willing to work with them, but I want to make sure all these student issues are ironed out," he said.

Southeast announced on Feb. 25 that it would terminate its partnership with Three Rivers Community College at the end of the spring semester because it has been losing about $800,000 annually in its operation of the three education centers.

Southeast said it planned to offer all the lower-division and upper-division courses at the university-operated centers starting this summer.

Three Rivers officials accused Southeast of kicking out the community college classes as a money-making move. If it were carried out, Southeast's move would eliminate 826 students from Three Rivers' enrollment, equal to about a fourth of the community college's total enrollment this spring and amounting to a loss of about $765,000 in student tuition, Three Rivers officials said.

Southeast officials responded that Three Rivers so far hasn't helped fund the centers. Roughly $130 a year of the fees paid by every Southeast student at the university goes to subsidize operation of the three centers, Dobbins said.

"That situation simply could not be allowed to continue," he said.

That problem would be solved under the proposed agreement in which Three Rivers and Southeast would each pay half of the direct cost of operating the centers.

Three Rivers would offer 60 percent of the freshmen and sophomore courses at the three education centers. Southeast would provide the other 40 percent.

In addition, Three Rivers would dedicate all money received from a $5 per credit hour technology fee paid by its students at the centers to keep computer equipment up to date.

Southeast officials said the fee has brought in about $90,000 annually, but that the community college hasn't provided sufficient computer upgrades.

John Tlapek, president of the board of regents, said Southeast wants to break even in its operation of the higher education centers.

Fitch, reached at his Jefferson City office, said he's optimistic the schools can reach an agreement soon that will best serve the students.

Southeast's board of regents held a telephone conference call Thursday, but took no action on Fitch's proposal.

The board of trustees of the Poplar Bluff community college also met this week, but took no final action after nearly four hours behind closed doors.

The trustees are scheduled to meet again Sunday.

Southeast's regents are expected to meet again in early April after a scheduled March 28 meeting in Sikeston involving Fitch and the presidents of the two schools.

Meanwhile, the dispute has prevented Three Rivers from scheduling summer and fall classes said John Stanard, who chairs the community college's board of trustees.

"We can't get the schedule out until we know where we will be teaching," Stanard said.

Southeast continues to enroll students for future classes in the higher education centers despite objections from Three Rivers officials, Stanard said.

But Dobbins said it's important to offer a schedule of classes for students at the centers.

"It's ridiculous for us to stop registering students now, particularly when there is not an agreement yet," he said.

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