Lake Ozark — A long-simmering dispute over how to expand access to higher education in southeast Missouri came closer to resolution yesterday when the Coordinating Board for Higher Education accepted the conceptual partnership agreement among five institutions.

Commissioner of Higher Education Robert Stein said the two-year process was the most arduous in his tenure as commissioner. The CBHE is required by statute to mediate disputes among institutions.

"At my first meeting I heard 18 competing solutions from vested interests," Stein says. "I wanted to better understand the issues before trying to facilitate a discussion about next best steps." Business, community and education leaders agreed to hire an independent consultant to conduct an educational needs analysis and make recommendations about the best delivery system for meeting them. Their report was issued in March 2009.
An agreement was hammered out over the summer and fall that must be approved by the boards of Southeast Missouri State University, Three Rivers Community College, Mineral Area College, Southeast Missouri Hospital College of Nursing and Health Sciences, and the Cape Girardeau Public School District. The agreement outlines parameters for offering community college-type services, such as:

  • Sets up a Partnership Advisory Committee to make recommendations regarding the partnership
  • Sets summer 2010 for beginning to offer courses
  • Limits Southeast, Three Rivers and Mineral Area from offering associate degrees in Cape Girardeau County with non-partnership entities
  • Specifies that Southeast and Three Rivers will equally share costs and revenues
  • Determines an initial location of course offerings as the Cape Girardeau Career & Technology Center with future locations to be jointly negotiated by Three Rivers, Mineral Area and Southeast
  • Stipulates that Three Rivers will begin the approval process from the Coordinating Board for Higher Education and the Higher Learning Commission for an Associate of Arts degree to be delivered in Cape Girardeau County.

Stein commended the work of the group that drafted the agreement, and acknowledged the involvement of former CBHE board chair and Cape Girardeau resident Kathy Swan for her commitment and objectivity during the process. John Mehner, chair of the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce, was also recognized for his contributions.

"In looking to the future, the Cape Girardeau region will benefit from enhanced educational opportunities and economic development," Stein says. "Partnership members have agreed to work collaboratively on future degree and certificate programs."