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story.lead_photo.caption Claycomb Technology Center on the campus of State Technical College of Missouri in Linn. Photo by Julie Smith / News Tribune.

LINN, Mo. -- Record enrollment at State Technical College of Missouri means more revenue than administrators expected when they wrote the school's budget last spring — making some money available for bonuses.

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During a half-hour telephone conference call Wednesday morning, State Tech's Board of Regents approved a $500, one-time bonus to faculty and staff who completed at least four online professional development courses offered by LinkedIn-Learning.

"Professional Development is one of the priorities that we've set," State Tech President Shawn Strong told the regents. "We saw an opportunity to provide an opportunity for professional development, and then to offer a little bit of additional compensation for that."

To qualify, faculty and staff were told to view four online courses that Strong chose:

  • Handling Workplace Change As An Employee.
  • Finance for Non-Finance Managers.
  • Customer Service Foundation.
  • Learning Office 365.

"Then they would have to do additional courses beyond that," Amy Ames, State Tech's chief of staff, explained. "We had 158 participants out of 170 potential, full-time employees."

Strong added: "While we required a minimum of 10 hours, I would say (that) by and large, folks are going above and beyond that, once they figured out the value to their professional development."

Their work had to be finished by this past Monday.

The regents approved spending up to $114,000 for the bonuses.

Chief Financial Officer Jenny Jacobs said she'd run the numbers from the fall semester and — even after setting aside $150,000 placed in the budget for an anticipated shortfall — State Tech has the money to pay the bonuses.

Strong and Jacobs noted the school purchased a subscription to the LinkedIn service about a year ago, so the cost of the courses was covered by that subscription.

Ames said everyone she talked to liked the service and the courses offered.

Strong said administrators hope faculty and staff see the benefit of using the online courses in the future, even without getting a bonus for taking them.

Wellness Initiative

The board also was told State Tech employees and retirees will have to pay more for their health insurance in the future if they don't visit a doctor and get a blood test at least once a year.

The doctor's visit requirement or extra fee were decided by the South Central Education Consortium that State Tech joined several years ago.

A $50 per month surcharge is to be imposed on the health care coverage of any employee, spouse, retiree or retiree's spouse who is covered by the consortium's policy and doesn't get a complete physical with blood work by April 30, 2019.

People who've had a physical and blood work since May 1, 2018, will meet the requirement.

Jacobs said she voted against the proposal because of its tight April 30 deadline.

But, she explained, "We have three-and-a-half or four years of claims to evaluate, and we have struggled over the last two full claim years with large claims that have exploded to the highest (level) this particular group has seen in its history.

"We are taking a long, hard look at the make-up of the large claims, where they're coming from and how they compare nationally with health care trends."

The issues they've found include blood pressure problems, heart attacks and premature births, Jacobs said — "lots of things that could be detected early and could have been minimalized maybe as far as claims are concerned."

She cited one example of "five new breast cancers (that) showed up in our large claims list" within six months of each other — and that the consortium's statistics on its covered patients show that "48 percent of the females between 45 and 54 have not had a mammogram" within the last year.

National statistics indicate early detection of some of the health issues could save the consortium about $1.3 million per year in "cost avoidance" of more expensive treatments.

The consortium estimates 20-30 percent of the covered adults won't comply with the doctor-visit requirement, providing it with an estimated additional $900,000 in revenues.

Jacobs wondered if that estimate is too high.

Regent Greg Hoberock, of Washington, Missouri, asked why the consortium had not included a penalty for smoking.

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"It's the single, largest contributor to health care costs for the employer," he argued. "I would ask you to push them (the consortium) for a test for nicotine.

"And those who fail a nicotine test (could be) charged another $50 or $100."

Reducing employees' cigarette consumption, Hoberock said, would mean "all these other numbers will help you come in line."

But, Jacobs said, the consortium's initial decision was an effort to get more people to see a doctor on a regular basis, because "67 percent of our members aren't having an annual physical at all."

Strong said: "This wellness initiative is something we needed to do.

"I think it would have been better if we'd started this a couple years ago."

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