By Chuck Ambrose/For the Muleskinner
After leaving the University of Central Missouri last summer, I was back in Kansas City with the KnowledgeWorks Leadership Team in December 2018 to engage in the Missouri Innovation Campus and meet its leadership team. For the first time in eight years, I could stop and look back at all that had been accomplished in building the nation’s only P-16 accelerated pathway that includes three-year paid internships in a competency-based learning model. Without the education speak, this means students from more than 20 high schools and 12 school districts can enter a program that cuts the cost of college, reduces the time to a degree in half, eliminates the talent skills gap by providing paid internships in over 50 of KC’s best companies, and reduces significantly student loan debt.
How did this bold educational concept come to life in Lee’s Summit, Missouri? While attending my first homecoming in Warrensburg in 2010, I had the opportunity to meet UCM Distinguished Alumnus Don Nissanka. In that conversation, Don indicated that he wanted to give something back to his alma mater for all that his two UCM degrees had meant to his career and life. We discussed at that homecoming dinner the original construct for The Missouri Innovation Campus. While creating 21st-century jobs for his proposed startup alternative energy company, we could make the production floor the classroom, managers and engineers part of the teaching faculty, and students could become employees and be paid for their work as they learn. Additionally, the cutting-edge technology would become the laboratory equipment that the state of Missouri could never afford to provide to students in high school, community college, or even on a university campus.
Design of the first degree program began late in November 2011 through a historical partnership between with the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District’s Summit Technology Academy, Metropolitan Community College-Longview Campus and UCM along with the Cerner Corporation, DST, and St. Luke’s Health System. “Moving at the Speed of Business,” 17 students entered into this new program in the summer of 2012. This initial cohort of students graduated from high school approximately the same time they finished their MCC associate degree. They finished their UCM four-year degree in two years and began work in their companies at an average starting salary of over $60,000. All of them accomplished these two years earlier than students who chose a more traditional pathway to completing their degree, and some of these students in that first cohort were barely 20 years old. It was through their courage to help build what’s possible that the number of students continues to grow along with the number of companies that are willing to help build the talent for the future of the region.
Today, the MIC students have access to a state-of-the-art learning facility that is truly the result of a unique partnership between the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District and UCM. Through a lease agreement, UCM accesses this facility at 60 percent of its total costs while the school district only pays 40 percent. The MIC facility provides high school for more than 600 students during the day and college/graduate school serving over 2,000 students all day and has been recognized nationally with architectural awards for teaching/learning space. This is possible while also saving the Lee’s Summit community over $100 million for the cost of a fourth high school and saving UCM the cost of a new Lee’s Summit campus to meet learning needs in the K.C. region.
What does the future hold for The MIC? Learning communities that range from Fredericksburg, Virginia, which are preparing talent for the new Amazon HQ2 project, to Ashland, Oregon, which are redefining talent for the southern region of the state are considering the MIC’s P-16 design as a model for their future. Here in Missouri, with Governor Parson’s focus on #Talent4Tomorrow and #BestinMidwest, the MIC partnerships, driven by workforce competencies, help define the outcome of college degrees and public education partnerships that drive better outcomes more cost efficiently, making the future of the MIC and its potential truly unlimited. Learning is both lifetime and seamless — it’s history and tradition that define it in terms of high school, college and work. The Missouri Innovation Campus is a future-focused model that helps remove both barriers and costs to enable students to make the best use of their passion, purpose and dreams for their future.
I am most grateful for the students who discovered these seamless pathways before they were ever created. Collectively, we have great teachers, faculty members and employers across the region who help students find the learning pathways that are most possible (on the basis of costs and quality). As the Missouri Innovation Campus continues its rapid evolution, learners (students) will continue to discover ways to create the future of education in Missouri and beyond.
Chuck Ambrose is a former president for the University of Central Missouri, and currently serves as CEO for KnowledgeWorks in Cincinnati, Ohio.