Education officials hope some of Southeast Missouri's high school students could soon be on a faster track to becoming the region's future workforce with the help of a $1 million grant from the state.
The development of the Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center as an "Innovation Campus" during the next year will begin new programs locally and throughout the region that allow high school students to receive college credit and gain work experience, said Rich Payne, director of the center.
Programs that will offer high school students early access to education in health care and manufacturing will be added at the center. The programs are starting as the result of a cooperative effort between the center, area school districts, Southeast Missouri State University, Three Rivers College, Mineral Area College, the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce Foundation and area health care and manufacturing industry partners.
Gov. Jay Nixon announced grant recipients Wednesday along with the intention that the grants should be used to develop "Innovation Campuses" throughout the state that will help students complete their degrees sooner and land jobs in high-need fields. Payne said the grant money will be used to pay the tuition of up to 280 students when new programs roll out, which will likely be in fall 2013.
One program that should help quickly grow a qualified workforce for the manufacturing sector will allow high school students to complete most, if not all, general education requirements toward an associate of applied science degree in several technical programs from Mineral Area College before graduation, Payne said. Those students then have that credit to apply toward a similar four-year degree at Southeast Missouri State University.
For the health care sector, the center will begin a new program contingent on approval by the state board of nursing that allows high school students to receive a licensed practical nurse degree during their senior year. A planned "careers in health care" program would get students' general requirements out of the way for quick admittance to area colleges or the center's programs for obtaining a two-year degree as a physical therapy assistant, respiratory therapist, surgical assistant or radiation technologist. Students traditionally have to wait until they finish high school to take courses that result in credit for the general requirements. A program for high school students to receive all credits to become certified emergency medical technicians may also be added, Payne said.
Payne said center staff, along with many members of the coordinating entities, are looking forward to the possible effects of the grant.
"It is our job and our responsibility to make sure we have skilled workers so we can help drive the economic growth of the region," he said. "With these things in place, we can make that happen."
Tim Arbeiter, vice president of community development for the chamber, said the chamber looked at and reviewed data with industry partners extensively to conclude the needs for the various programs.
"The major benefit we see with this is the opportunity to have a well-trained workforce available," Arbeiter said. "This is also going to allow production of that in a timely fashion and students are going to be coming out with less student debt in the end."
Dr. Gerald McDougall, Southeast Missouri State University's associate provost of Extended and Online Learning, said he expects the new programs will also help enrollment in Southeast's arrangement with Mineral Area College and Three Rivers College, the Cape Girardeau Partnership for Higher Education, which is based at the center.
The Partnership offers general education instruction that allows students to earn credits for transfer to a four-year college, associate of arts degrees administered through Three Rivers and associate of applied science degrees issued through Mineral Area. McDougall said it has already seen "meaningful demand" during its first two years, but now with the grant there could be a boost in enrollment.
The grant will also provide high school students to the south with a jump on agribusiness degrees by starting programs similar to those in Cape Girardeau at college outreach centers in Kennett, Mo., and Malden, Mo.
McDougall said a great deal of interest in a new bachelor of science degree in agribusiness from Southeast at those centers is prompting the creation of the high school program, which will focus on offering dual credits to high school students in Dunklin and other counties in the region.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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