Independent colleges among Missouri's strongest assets
The Kansas City Star
During his State of the State address, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon announced his intention to invite Western Governors University (a school based in Salt Lake City) to Missouri to provide bachelor’s and master’s degrees in four areas which Missouri employers have identified employment needs: business, health care, teacher preparation and information technology. WGU was founded in 1997 under the leadership of Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt who encouraged other governors to form this school.
In his address, Gov. Nixon said, “There are nearly 750,000 Missourians who started college but never completed their degrees. They left school, got jobs, started families, moved on with their lives. At this point, some of these folks may feel that going back to college is too expensive, or too hard to juggle with work and raising kids.”
With that point, Gov. Nixon, I agree, but while noting the public higher education institutions’ challenges in accommodating Missouri’s higher education needs, you failed to consider the many opportunities at nonprofit, independent universities and colleges.
A Feb. 5 editorial in The Star expressed support for the governor’s proposal to endorse an out-of-state solution to serve adult learners. The editorial stated: “Missouri’s network of public colleges and universities is one of the state’s strongest assets. It deserves the governor’s and legislature’s full support. But WGU will fill a niche that will help students and the state.”
Both the governor and the editorial board have seemingly ignored another of Missouri’s strongest assets — its remarkable group of independent universities and colleges. Missouri’s independent colleges and universities not only agree that serving adult students is a priority for the state’s economic stability and development but also remind you that some of these independent institutions have been doing so for multiple decades — at virtually no public expense.
We understand that the more highly educated the population, the lower the rate of unemployment. College graduates earn better wages and consequently provide more tax revenue to states.
Missouri’s independent institutions enroll 35 percent of the state’s university and college students. At the post-baccalaureate level, 61 percent of students are enrolled at independent institutions. Those institutions produce nearly half of the bachelor’s degrees awarded in Missouri, 67 percent of master’s degrees and more than half of the doctorates or first professional degrees.
Missouri’s independent institutions award more bachelor’s degrees to minorities and first generation students than our public counterparts. Independent institutions serve a greater percentage of low-income students than our public counterparts.
Independent institutions do this without the state subsidies that enable public institutions to offer lower, taxpayer-funded tuition rates.
Independent institutions are key drivers of economic stability and development, with a direct annual impact to our state that exceeds $4.5 billion.
We agree with the governor and The Star’s editorial board that providing robust educational opportunities for adult learners is essential for our state’s economy and for enabling each of them, in the words of the governor, “to reach their full potential.” That goal can be accomplished with the outstanding educational resources already established in Missouri.
Founded in 1875, Park University began offering online courses in 1996, three years before WGU even began accepting students. Park’s commitment is to provide access to quality degree and certificate programs to adult learners while maintaining tuition rates comparable to Missouri’s public universities.
Park University and other independent Missouri colleges and universities have demonstrated academic success through many years of experience — fulfilling the needs of adult learners and meeting the needs of Missouri employers.
Michael H. Droge is president of Park University in Parkville.