University of Central Missouri: Value of Partnerships to Address Workforce Development, Higher Education Needs in Missouri

With the state facing a significant upswing in its financial position, Missouri Governor Mike Parson on Feb. 16 presented his vision for investing in areas such as workforce development and higher education when he hosted a roundtable discussion at the University of Central Missouri.

The governor’s visit to UCM was one of multiple opportunities he has scheduled across the state to discuss Missouri’s strong economic performance and what this means for making fundamental improvements in key areas that will serve Missourians now and into the future. According to the governor’s office, the proposed operating budget, which was between $33-34 billion this year, has surged to approximately $47 billion for Fiscal Year 2023. Increased state revenue and federal support are contributing to this healthy budget outlook to make new investment opportunities possible.

Parson was joined in the roundtable by UCM and State Fair Community College (SFCC) leaders, as well as representatives of the Warrensburg and Knob Noster school districts. It also included participation from the Warrensburg Chamber of Commerce, Johnson County and Sedalia governance, economic development, and industry representatives. The governor’s remarks were accompanied by comments from Zora Mulligan, Missouri commissioner of higher education; Kayla Hahn, the governor’s policy director; Roger Best, UCM president, and Joanna Anderson, SFCC president. They were part of a 21-person group who were invited to join the governor for this event.

Parson noted that he has high aspirations for making improvements that will serve the state long after he completes the final three years of his term as governor. He stressed his commitment to working with communities to create partnerships that will drive economic growth and new opportunities for the state’s citizens.

“You’re going to have a chance of a lifetime to change the needle of this state for all of us. We’re going to be fortunate enough to do a lot of things financially that we haven’t been able to do,” he told the gathering. He also added that accomplishing what is needed for the state will require responsible, transparent investments that have longevity.

The governor’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year includes increasing higher education’s core funding by 5.4 percent for all public institutions,
$31.5 million for MoExcels projects and $470 million to fund capital projects at state community colleges and four-year institutions. Parson also noted that about $20 million will go toward developing the 57 career centers in the state to help prepare high school students for the jobs of tomorrow. In addition, he proposes adding $7 million toward dual credit scholarships, and $6 million in additional funds for A+ scholarships.

Parson spoke about the need to ensure children are getting a good education. This includes hiring and retaining quality teachers. He said the average base salary for a beginning teacher in Missouri is $25,000 annually, which is “dead last” in the United States, and makes it difficult to attract talented people to these positions. He also spoke about the need to change the structure for childcare in the state, recognizing the challenges this poses for families who must decide whether or not to stay home and take care of their children or go to work at jobs that will drive Missouri’s economy.

Hahn commented further on the childcare situation, noting that the state’s financial position is good for helping to address this crisis in Missouri. Efforts are underway to develop one regulatory framework and point of access for childcare providers, instead of having responsibilities divided among three different government agencies. Proposed funding assistance is also on the table.

“Right now, before the General Assembly is a supplemental budget. In that supplemental budget of $5 billion is $700 million for childcare,” she said. “Those childcare investments can be in partnership such as innovation grants for businesses that might want to bring childcare on site, as we know that is definitely a need, or childcare facilities in partnership with our K-12 institutions, or even with our higher education institutions. A lot of our higher education institutions have had on-site childcare facilities before, and we’re going to encourage that again.”

Hahn also said the Fast Track Workforce Incentive Grant Program is going to sunset this year, but the governor’s office is looking into re-authorizing this opportunity, which must be approved by the General Assembly. Fast Track is a financial aid program that addresses workforce needs by encouraging adults to pursue a certificate, degree or industry-recognized credential in a high-need area..

“Eighty percent of the students in that program are women, and the top program fields for those women are healthcare, education and IT (Information Technology),” Hahn said.

Mulligan echoed Parson’s observation about this being a “historic time” for higher education.

“Just the money on the table is one of the things that is making a difference and brings everybody to attention,” she said, “but there are some other really important differences about the time we are in currently. One of them is just the comprehensive nature of the budget the governor is talking about – the approach that we have taken in workforce development over the last three years.”

Mulligan said she and her colleagues have heard a lot about the challenges community members face and the “most daunting part of that conversation was just realizing how complicated the problems are, and how one program isn’t going to address all of the needs…you really have to take a comprehensive view,” she said. “That’s why when you look around the table here today you see people from community colleges who have always been kind of the first in mind when you think about workforce development, but also recognition of the critical role that public universities play and making sure we have people who have bachelor’s degrees to fill the many jobs in our communities that require that credential.”

She said it is important that K-12 educators be part of the day’s discussion because it’s critical that every high school student graduates well prepared to enter either a workforce development or post-secondary education program.

In representing SFCC, Anderson thanked the governor for the core budget recommendation, which she said “is huge for the college.” She also pointed out the value of MoExcels, and the support of business, industry and economic development leaders who have been engaged in workforce development-related opportunities with State Fair.

Circling back to the governor’s emphasis on collaboration with communities, Anderson commented, “When you say ‘partnerships,’ we understand partnerships. ‘Community” is in our name, and we really do take that to heart.”

Best told the governor, “We’re certainly grateful for the funding recommendations. We know that is critical to enhance access and affordability to our students, but you characterized it very well. It’s also about partnerships”

He noted that UCM, SFCC and the communities they serve firmly believe in opportunities to collaborate. They understand that the power of what they provide the state is not what they do individually but through their ability to work together.

“Making a difference when it comes to workforce development, making a difference when it comes to educating our citizens, takes everyone else sitting at this table, so we thank you for your support,” Best said.

Parson and his staff provided a handout to roundtable participants that highlights several areas in which Missouri currently excels. He urged those attending to share Missouri’s Top Rankings with their stakeholders.

Other topics addressed during the meeting included critical economic development investments in areas such as broadband, clean water, assisting the state’s public service employees, and improving the state’s infrastructure.

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