Press Release: Three Rivers President Testifies Before Missouri House Education Appropriations Committee
Dr. Devin Stephenson, President of Three Rivers College and chair-elect of the Missouri Community College Association (MCCA) testified before the Missouri House of Representatives’ Higher Education Committee on Tuesday, Jan. 28 on the importance of community colleges and the need for increased funding.
Stephenson, along with Dr. Craig Larson, chair of St. Louis Community College’s Board of Trustees and chair-elect of MCCA’s board of directors, spoke on behalf of Missouri’s community colleges and technical schools to explain the role that those institutions have in developing Missouri’s workforce and economy, and to request equitable funding to support the role of community colleges in attracting economic opportunities to Missouri through job skills and workforce training.
“Companies like Boeing are only interested in doing business in a state if they have assurances that they’ll have a pipeline of skilled workers,” Larson told the committee. “Our community colleges provide that for businesses both small and large across the state.”
“I’ve most definitely heard manufacturers who say that having access to a skilled workforce is one of the most important factors in setting up shop in Missouri, and staying here,” said Stephenson, citing his experience as chair of the Poplar Bluff Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors. “These employers are looking for highly trained workers, and community colleges are the ones who provide them, whether it’s the CNAs we train to be nurses, or the students who learn mechatronics and advanced manufacturing. There are countless examples of how our institutions provide the foundation for a strong state economy.”
“I’d also add that we offer our programs based on economic projections about the jobs that will be available for our students when they graduate,” said Stephenson. “Students know going into our programs that there will be a job for them at the other end. And I can promise you that no one has ever asked a student training to be an electrician or a welder what he’s going to do with that degree!”
The speakers also reminded the committee that, in addition to bolstering Missouri’s economy, two-year institutions are vital to giving Missouri students an affordable entry into bachelors and post-graduate education. According to MCCA statistics, 48 percent of all students who complete a bachelor’s degree have taken at least one community college class, with 30 percent of Mizzou’s law students coming from community college backgrounds. Stephenson and Larson also pointed out that 15 percent of Missouri state representatives and 20% of Missouri state senators are community college alumni.
“With over 100,000 students statewide, community colleges represent over 40 percent of the higher education enrollment for the state, with 95 percent of our students staying in Missouri and contributing to their local economies,” Stephenson told reporters. “That’s in addition to the 125,000 students who’ve taken non-credit classes, and the over 30,000 workers that we’ve trained through Customized Training Programs and the Community College New Jobs and Job Retention Training Programs.
“Given those numbers, we’re surprised that the Governor only proposed $7.9 million in new funding for two-year institutions, while giving ten times that much in new money to four-year institutions. That’s in addition to being left out of his STEM initiative,” Stephenson added. “Tell me that we don’t prepare students for jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math. It’s a huge part of what we do, and given the impact we already have on the state economy, we would be able to accomplish some incredible things with that money. It’s not fair to our students, it’s not fair to Missouri employers, and it’s not fair to the state, period.”