Dobbins: Partnership with out-of-state university is nothing new

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Southeast Missouri State University president Dr. Ken Dobbins says there is nothing groundbreaking about the university's proposed partnership with Arkansas State University to establish a nursing program in Kennett, Mo.

In a statement issued Friday afternoon, the president reiterated that the agreement would not violate Missouri higher education policy, defending against charges by Dr. Devin Stephenson, president of Three Rivers Community College in Poplar Bluff, Mo.

"The Missouri Department of Higher Education has recently posted 12 requests to deliver degrees in Missouri from out-of-state Universities and is currently accepting comments on those requests," according to the Southeast statement. "It is our understanding that ASU plans to follow these current [Higher Education] procedures in its request to deliver Associate of Applied Science programs in Missouri after they receive program approval from the Missouri Board of Nursing."

In a letter to the community college's trustees and others last week, Stephenson wrote of the "egregious, unprofessional, backhanded behavior" of Dobbins. Stephenson said the proposed partnership is in direct violation of Coordinating Board of Higher Education policy and a "significant breach of trust with the taxpayers of Missouri, Three Rivers, and the entire community college sector in the state."

He said Southeast's agreement with Arkansas State University would waste time and resources and send Missouri tax dollars out of state.

Three Rivers offers the associate degree in nursing at the Poplar Bluff and Sikeston, Mo., campuses. Kennett is 43 miles from Poplar Bluff and 55 miles from Sikeston.

"I am surprised and disappointed that Southeast would choose to seek a partnership with ASU for the offering of an associate degree in nursing in Kennett without at least having the common decency to contact Three Rivers," Stephenson wrote in a statement Thursday.

In his statement to the media Friday, Dobbins said Southeast and various interest groups in Kennett have requested partnering with Three Rivers on the nursing program at least three times over the past 10 years and that Three Rivers has always declined those requests.

"In recent correspondence and in [Three Rivers] statements and news releases, there is no indication that TRCC now desires to deliver the AAS in Nursing degree at our Kennett Regional campus," Dobbins wrote. "However, if TRCC has changed its past position, Southeast will be happy to discuss such options with the community college. Consequently, I hope to receive a telephone call from President Stephenson in the near future so he can clarify TRCC's thoughts on this issue."

Stephenson could not be reached for comment Friday.

Dobbins said as a result of Three River's refusals, the university partnered with Southeast Missouri Hospital College of Nursing and Health Sciences to bring the nursing program to Kennett.

"In fact, Southeast Missouri State received such strong support from the Missouri Foundation for Health and Kennett's Twin Rivers Regional Medical Center that they pledged funds and materials in 2006 to build a state-of-the-art science lab to be used for the" nursing program, Dobbins said in the statement. "At no time did TRCC object to this collaborative initiative."

Dobbins pointed to Missouri Department of Higher Education Public Policy 7.1, which says the state's postsecondary education system should be responsive to the needs of Missouri residents. Southeast has not violated the policy but has instead "embraced this policy and found alternative ways to provide the [nursing program] in the Kennett area," Dobbins wrote. He said there are unmet needs in health care in the Kennett area and that many Missouri students are now traveling out of state for health care education and not returning to Missouri to practice.

"The director of our Kennett Regional Campus estimates that at least 75 percent of the prospective AAS in Nursing degree students will be Missouri citizens," Dobbins said in the statement.

mkittle@semissourian.com

388-3627

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