Missouri community colleges move closer to offering bachelor’s degrees

By Stephanie Sandoval
Columbia Missourian

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri community colleges could have the flexibility to offer new degree programs if the governor signs on.

The Higher Education Committee in the House voted last week to pass Senate Bill 807 onto the House floor, which would allow community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees if it’s approved by the Coordinating Board for Higher Education.

Another bill that would also allow community colleges to grant degrees, House Bill 1465, has already passed both chambers but has not been signed by Gov. Eric Greitens.

“Ultimately, the people, the students and the citizens of the state of Missouri will be the beneficiaries because they will be able to receive the knowledge and training that they need closer to home without having to travel to Columbia,” said Rep. Steve Cookson, R-Poplar Bluff.

The bills’ progress has been good to see, he added.

“I’m pleasantly surprised,” Cookson said. “It’s something we’ve been working on for three years, since I was chairman of higher education.”

But Cookson said the Senate’s bill didn’t satisfy every university.

“They all wanted a little bit more,” Cookson said. “Missouri wanted all of them to get less so that everybody had to come to Mizzou, but in the end, I think it was a bill that everybody got something, but no one got everything they wanted, which is usually a piece of good legislation.”

Paul Wagner, executive director of the Council on Higher Education, said they “just want to get something to the finish line.” Wagner represents all public university presidents and chancellors. He testified in March in support of the bill.

“It’s really going to streamline how quickly the Department of Higher Education can approve a lot of programs that are already within institutions’ core mission,” Wagner said. “So those changes can happen a lot more quickly and helps the schools be a lot more responsive to needs in the workforce and student interests.”

The Coordinating Board for Higher Education has the authority to approve new degree programs.

“So this is more about lining out the rules by which they’ll make those decisions,” Wagner said.

Brian Millner, president and CEO of the Missouri Community College Association, said he supports the legislation because it would help community colleges provide degrees if job requirements were to change over time for a specific field.

“There’s a nursing shortage across the country, and Missouri is certainly no different, and so this is one of those areas that if it became required that nursing students had to have a bachelor’s degree, we would be able to help with the capacity issue that would exist in educating that many nurses across the state,” Millner said.

The bill also states only the University of Missouri at Columbia can offer doctoral degrees. Millner said the bill would prevent duplicated degrees.

“For multiple public institutions to offer the same Ph.D., would be a waste of state money,” Millner said.