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Parson: Trade, technical schools key to workforce development

by Ryan Pivoney | February 15, 2022 at 11:02 p.m.
Chris Bowser, vice president of student affairs at State Technical College of Missouri, greeted Gov. Mike Parson on Tuesday morning at a roundtable event focused on workforce development. Parson said trade and technical schools will be crucial in his workforce development plans. (Ryan Pivoney/News Tribune)

Trade and technical education will be vital to workforce development into the future, Gov. Mike Parson told higher education leaders Monday.

State Technical College of Missouri was Parson’s latest stop in a series of roundtable discussions with higher education and workforce development leaders around the state.

The governor met with State Tech administration and board members, as well as representatives from East Central College, Missouri University of Science and Technology and the Osage County Commission to talk about his proposed investments that would support workforce development and higher education.

With recent expansions and more students than ever enrolling, Parson said State Tech and other trade schools will be crucial for workforce development.

“They’ll be a key to the future of this state at a level they’ve never seen before,” Parson said. “We’re going to depend on them more and more every day to get people out into that workforce.”

He said the state has significant demand for more skilled workers right now, pointing out there are approximately 119,000 open jobs in the state, which means higher education institutions can do more.

Missouri is sitting on historic revenues and a windfall of federal dollars flowing into the state, which Parson said is an opportunity to make progress on the workforce development front.

Parson said it’s his goal to create a strong foundation that maintains a balance of colleges, universities, and trade or technical schools.

State Tech President Shawn Strong said Parson has been incredibly supportive of higher education since taking office in 2018, particularly with additional funding to state colleges and universities.

Previous increases to State Tech’s funding have gone toward development of new programs and buildings around campus, which Strong said has contributed to growth.

The college has experienced steady enrollment increases for the past five years and is Missouri’s fastest growing college. Last fall, enrollment reached a record 2,000 students.

In his most recent budget recommendations released last month, Parson proposed a 5.4 percent increase in core funding to all public colleges and universities and $468.9 million in federal COVID-19 relief to be divided among each campus to address their top capital improvement project.

State Tech was allocated $20 million out of the federal dollars to implement supply chain automation learning in several technical programs.

If approved by the Legislature, Strong said the funds will be used to construct two new buildings on campus, adding about 90,000 square feet of lab space. Once those are constructed, Strong said the college would then renovate another 90,000 square feet of existing building space to expand programs.

In total, Strong said the investment would touch about 30 percent of State Tech’s campus, but would provide enough space to grow enrollment by another 1,000 students.

Strong said State Tech is one of the smallest state institutions of higher education with the largest ask from the state.

Parson said he isn’t too concerned about how much the college is asking for, rather the results they can produce.

“We don’t get so much hung up on what you’re asking for, but we want to know what the endgame is,” Parson said. “If you’re going to take that money — whatever amount that money is — how many kids are you going to turn out there to go into the workforce of tomorrow in one of those high demand jobs?”

Parson said if colleges and universities can’t show how the state funds would grow operations or increase enrollment, then he will invest where there is demand.

“That’s probably a good reason of why we’re going to invest in here,” he said about State Tech. “If you just look around this campus and you see the people that are in here and some of the trades that all these young men and women are going into, those are all high demand jobs out there. We just got to get them out there.”

If all of the governor’s budget proposals are approved, Strong said State Tech would be looking at its best year in funding ever.

In addition to the $20 million capital improvement project and 5.4 percent increase in core appropriation, the governor has proposed an additional $6 million to expand a scholarship program heavily used by State Tech students.

The A+ Scholarship Program provides state funds to eligible students enrolling in community colleges or technical schools that participate in the program.

Strong said roughly 50 percent of State Tech students used the A+ program five years ago, but that number has since climbed to 67 percent of students using the funds to cover costs at State Tech.

“It’s a great investment,” Strong said. “That truly has as much to do with our growth as anything.”

The governor’s workforce roundtable series continues Wednesday with a stop at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg.


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