About 30 higher education leaders spent Thursday questioning state employees, legislators and advocates on how to improve education across the state.
Facing a December deadline, the Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education held a third public hearing Thursday to help formulate a statewide plan for post-secondary learning.
The daylong event in Jefferson City included panels with the members of Jay Nixon's cabinet and members of the Missouri General Assembly.
Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, Rep. Kathy Swan, R-Cape Girardeau, and Rep. Steve Cookson, R-Poplar Bluff, discussed the importance of investing in early childhood education, collaboration between colleges in Missouri and investing funding in regions where test scores are low.
"If you give kids a good start, it makes a tremendous difference," Pearce said. "To start where the need is the greatest is important."
Swan suggested expanding high-speed Internet to help families in rural areas meet their educational goals both at home and in school.
"The students need the ability to have high-speed Internet at their homes for information and to do homework and so do the parents," Swan said.
Thursday's hearing focused on "State Government and Higher Education: Issues and Remedies." By state law, the Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education must outline a plan to meet the educational needs of Missouri residents.
According to the Missouri Department of Education, the 2015 plan will address the accessibility, affordability and quality of higher education in the state, as well as focus on college completion rates.
The previous plan, titled "Imperatives for Change: Building a Higher Education System for the 21st Century," was adopted in 2008.
The Missouri Department of Higher Education estimates 60 percent of jobs within the state "will require some form of post-secondary education" by 2018.
During a panel on institutional associations, Paul Wagner, executive director of the Council on Public Higher Education, said a bold action would be for the state to make a major investment in its public colleges and universities.
"Funding institutions is also funding students," Wagner said.
Other topics hearing attendees discussed included the need to attract more students to science, technology, engineering and math fields; higher education's role in driving state economic growth; and the need to keep talented students in Missouri for college and post-graduation employment.
The first two public hearings were held in St. Louis and O'Fallon in December. There are another six public hearings planned throughout the year, including February's meeting at MU.
The hearing will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thursday in Memorial Union.