Obama to highlight college program in Mo.

By DAVID A. LIEB

Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Armaja LaRue-Hill expects to share a stage Wednesday with President Barack Obama — the result of an accidental action she took about a year ago.

LaRue-Hill thought she was enrolling in an engineering class at a technical school run by a suburban Kansas City high school. The course turned out to be more focused on information technology — and launched her into the inaugural class of a new Missouri initiative intended to fast-track students to college degrees in high-tech, high-demand fields.

Obama is expected to highlight the “Missouri Innovation Campus” program during a speech late Wednesday afternoon at the University of Central Missouri. LaRue-Hill and other program participants are to appear on stage.

The president is expected to cite the program as a positive example as he touts an economic agenda.

For LaRue-Hill, a 17-year-old soon-to-be high school senior, the program represents a mistake she’s glad she made.

“Realizing that I would be able to get a degree in a high-paying industry — and a really open industry in terms of availability for positions — was really exciting for me,” she said.

The innovation campus is a partnership among the University of Central Missouri, Metropolitan Community College, the Lee’s Summit School District and several businesses in the Kansas City area. Students receive two years of community college credits while still in high school then can earn a bachelor’s degree after spending just two additional years at the university.

Along the way, students participate in paid internships at area businesses. LaRue-Hill and nine others are interning this summer at the Kansas City-based health-care technology firm Cerner Corp.

The goal is to get college-educated students into the workforce faster than normal at a significantly lower cost to the students. Their education is to be paid for by corporate funding and state scholarships, grants and loan-forgiveness programs.

“What we’re doing in terms of preparing students to graduate earlier and with less debt, we believe that will have a significant impact on the economy,” said university spokesman Jeff Murphy,

The program began last school year with 19 high school juniors enrolled in a systems engineering technology program. Seventeen of those students are returning for a second year and 15 additional students will be joining the initiative — five in systems engineering technology and 10 in a new track emphasizing engineering, design and drafting technology, Murphy said.

The program has been trumpeted by Gov. Jay Nixon, who will be joining Obama on Wednesday. Last year, Nixon announced nearly $9 million of grants for innovation-campus programs around the state.

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Follow David A. Lieb at: http://www.twitter.com/DavidALieb

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