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December 22, 2016

Task force taking a close look at Missouri’s higher education system

A task force of higher education leaders in Missouri is looking at how well the state’s colleges and universities are meeting Missouri’s workforce and education needs.

An interim report, endorsed unanimously by the task force, was presented to the Coordinating Board for Higher Education Dec. 15. The task force is studying the overall structure of Missouri’s higher education system – including the missions of the state’s public colleges and universities, the degree programs they offer and the geographic regions they serve. The group also is examining Missouri’s growing need for an educated workforce.

According to the National Center for Higher Education Management, an estimated 66 percent of the jobs in Missouri will require a two- or four-year degree or certificate by 2020. In 2015, about 51.7 percent of working age adults in the state has a degree or certificate, up from 50.6 percent the previous year.

“The task force brought college and university leaders together for a very serious discussion about meeting regional and statewide higher education and workforce needs,” said Zora Mulligan, Missouri commissioner of higher education.

During the first stage of its work, the task force focused on supply and demand issues related to higher education in Missouri and the Department of Higher Education’s process for approving degree programs at the state’s public colleges and universities.

The task force developed a framework for program approval that would streamline the process for programs that are within a college or university’s state-defined mission. A more extensive and comprehensive review would be conducted for programs that fall outside a school’s mission. Colleges and universities would be required to show that the proposed program is needed and that they have developed a clear plan to meet the need. They also would have to ensure their ability – academically and financially – to offer a high quality degree program.

Specific recommendations in the report include:

  • The University of Missouri System – with campuses in Columbia, Rolla, Kansas City and St. Louis – is the state’s public research university and granter of research doctorates and should strengthen that role. The University of Missouri should continue to be the granter of PhDs and “first-professional” doctorates in areas that include medicine, dentistry, optometry, pharmacy, veterinary medicine and law. Other public Missouri universities could be allowed to collaborate with the University of Missouri to offer these degrees to meet a specific regional workforce need.
  • A limited number of universities throughout the state could be allowed to offer “practice” doctorates in areas such as education and allied health. The programs should be offered through collaborative agreements with schools that already offer similar programs unless collaboration is not feasible or would not meet the needs of students and employers.
  • Community colleges would be limited to offering associate degrees and certificates except in certain cases. The Coordinating Board could authorize a community college to offer a bachelor’s degree program if it becomes necessary for employment or certification or licensure in a specific field; it does not duplicate an existing program; and collaboration with a university to offer the bachelor’s degree is not feasible.

In each case, the Department of Higher Education and Coordinating Board would determine if a college or university has the resources necessary to deliver a quality degree program.

The task force was appointed in June 2016 at the request of Missouri Speaker of the House Todd Richardson and House Higher Education Committee Chair Steve Cookson following increased interest in the state’s degree program approval process during the 2016 legislative session. In addition, the department’s new coordinated plan for higher education, approved by the Coordinating Board in January 2016, called for a review of Missouri’s higher education system.

Task force members will continue to meet in the months ahead to address several additional issues including increasing access to higher education – especially for students in rural areas of the state and historically underserved populations, improving degree and certificate attainment, strengthening collaboration among the state’s colleges and universities and identifying specific workforce needs.