Southeast’s Kennett Campus Celebrating 10 Years of Success

Photo of Southeast Missouri State University's Kennett campus

Southeast’s Kennett Campus will celebrate its 10th anniversary with an open house and alumni reception Nov. 29.

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo.,

Nov. 1, 2010 – Southeast Missouri State University – Kennett will celebrate a decade of service, continued growth and success in the community at a 10th Anniversary Celebration Open House and Alumni Reception Nov. 29.

The celebration is planned for 5-7 p.m. with welcome remarks scheduled for 6:15 p.m. Special guest at the festivities will be Grammy Award-winning artist and Kennett, Mo., native Sheryl Crow.

“The focus of the event will be to honor our alumni since our campus is about one thing – our students,” said Marsha Blanchard, director of Southeast Missouri State University-Kennett.

A Decade of Higher Education in Kennett

Southeast Missouri State University’s Kennett Campus is the outgrowth of an initiative called Mission Enhancement set forth by the Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education in the mid-1990s. It called for each four-year state institution to develop a unique role in the delivery of higher education in Missouri, which included developing partnerships to improve off-campus access to education. One of the key elements of Southeast’s mission enhancement plan was to develop several higher education centers in its service region, including in Kennett.

The seed for a higher education facility in Kennett took hold in 1998 when the Kennett City Council and the Kennett Board of Public Works designated funds to purchase and renovate a former Kroger supermarket building at 1230 First Street and donate it to the Southeast Missouri University Foundation. Prior to that, the only post-secondary coursework offered in the Kennett community was at the Kennett Vocational School. The purchase of the Kroger supermarket building was part of a cooperative effort by the Foundation, Southeast Missouri State University, the Southeast Missouri Education Consortium and Three Rivers Community College to lay the groundwork to provide further higher education and technical training programs to the Kennett community.

The need for higher education opportunities was obvious to the citizens of Kennett. After the purchase of the supermarket, the community invested another $450,000 in renovating the building for educational purposes. While renovations were under way, the Center was temporarily housed in the Kennett Vocational School.

In summer 1998, the Center of Advanced Social Research at the University of Missouri was enlisted to conduct a feasibility study to determine the educational needs in the Kennett area. Residents ranked education as the second most important need facing the community. Two-thirds of the respondents said there was a “great need” for an educational facility in the community. About the same number said they or a family member would likely take classes at a local educational facility.

The first official slate of six courses – two undergraduate and four graduate classes — was offered at the temporary site of the educational facility, the Kennett Vocational School, beginning on Aug. 23, 1999.

In September of that year, Crow performed a local concert at the Kennett American Legion Building with funds benefitting the Kennett #39 Educational Foundation. The concert raised $25,000 which was matched by the Southeast Missouri University Foundation to create a scholarship endowment fund for the soon-to be Kennett higher education facility.

In October 1999, bids were opened on renovating the former Kroger building into a classroom and administrative office complex. In April 2000, Blanchard was named director of the center.

Originally called the Kennett Area Higher Education Center, the facility was dedicated at a ceremony in the summer of 2000. The ceremony celebrated the community’s wish for higher education to be available in the community. The late Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan, who participated in the festivities, said the goal of the Center was to offer residents in the southernmost part of the state the opportunity to gain college credit and vocational training close to home. These students, he said, would bring the benefits of higher education to the Bootheel region and improve the quality of life for many residents.

The new Kennett Area Higher Education Center (KAHEC) building began with four classrooms, a computer lab and an interactive television classroom. With 170 students registered for the fall 2000 semester, the center brought Southeast faculty to the region to teach upper division and graduate courses. Lower division courses were then taught by Three Rivers Community College.

“Since our opening, many students have completed degrees at the Kennett campus and have graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a certificate, a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree or a specialist degree,” Blanchard said. “Students attend from all over the Missouri Bootheel and northeast Arkansas. Any given semester, several hundred students are enrolled in higher education opportunities at the Kennett campus.

“The Kennett area and Southeast Missouri State University have created a great partnership that has had a positive impact on all involved and is changing lives in our region for the better through higher education,” Blanchard said.

In June 2001, Kennett National Bank pledged $1.2 million in scholarships to the Kennett Center. The pledge, over a 30-year period, provides four $500 scholarships to be awarded each fall, spring and summer semester. The first scholarships were awarded for the summer 2001 semester.

By fall 2002, duplicated enrollments at KAHEC were 733, and the Center needed to expand to contain its rapidly growing population. The facility was so crowded, classes were being taught at the Kennett Public Schools, the Kennett Vocational School, Kennett High School and at Senath-Hornersville to accommodate the growing enrollment.

Fund raisers were held to raise the $150,000 necessary for expansion. Once again, the surrounding community stepped up to support the Center. Kennett National Bank pledged $75,000 to establish a much needed student center, now called the Kennett National Bank Student Center. Previously students had only picnic tables outside to study on and were forced to find space wherever they could to fill the time between classes.

Help was also received from the state. In November, Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond announced the Delta Regional Authority had approved $1.3 million in funds to foster economic development in rural Missouri communities. Southeast Missouri State University was given $400,000 to renovate and update the Kennett Area Higher Education Center. The money financed the addition of four state-of-the-art interactive educational classrooms to the existing facility.

The following year, construction was completed and the Kennett National Bank Student Center, ITV classroom and computer lab were opened at the start of the fall 2003 semester. Before the additions were even finished, plans were under way to add a new science lab and another traditional classroom.

Enrollment continued to climb steadily and by fall 2003, there were 922 enrollments at the Center. 

In December 2003, Southeast hosted a banquet where Crow spoke about the importance of the KAHEC to the community and the Bootheel region. Funds from the dinner went to furnishing the new science lab and classroom.

The expansion work was finished by fall 2004 and was showcased in an exhibition featuring the works of photo journalist Sally Stapleton. Stapleton’s Pulitzer Prize winning works were displayed as part of the reception designed to show the community the expansions and improvements made at the Center over the years.

In 2005, Southeast announced that its higher education center in Kennett, as well as in Malden and Sikeston, Mo., would offer a Bachelor of General Studies (B.G.S.) degree completion program. This allowed students at the centers to complete a B.G.S. degree without setting foot on the Southeast campus in Cape Girardeau. At the same time, Southeast announced a reduced fee structure for freshman- and sophomore-level courses taught at the centers “face-to-face” by Southeast faculty or by interactive television. These courses would be comparable in cost to what students were paying for community college courses. 

The Center was again enlarged to make room for the influx of students drawn by the new course offerings. Kennett National Bank made another large donation to help with the cost of expansion.

With the completion of the renovations, KAHEC gained 3,100 square feet of newly renovated classrooms, one interactive television classroom, several multipurpose rooms, and office space for students and faculty. In 2006, the center’s name was changed from the Kennett Area Higher Education Center to Southeast Missouri State University – Kennett, reflecting it was now a regional campus of the University.

That same year, the campus announced it would offer an associate degree Licensed Practical Nurse to Registered Nurse (LPN to RN) Bridge Program. The cooperative program with Southeast Missouri Hospital College of Nursing and Health Sciences was designed to help meet the community need for registered nurses. The Kennett community again displayed their strong support for the school when the Missouri Foundation for Health and Twin Rivers Regional Medical Center in Kennett pledged funds and supplies to support the program.

Over the past four years, enrollment has continued to rise at the regional campus as students take advantage of the scholarships, programs and opportunities available.

The Kennett campus is proof of what can be accomplished when people work together for the good of a community and its residents, Blanchard said.

Programs at Kennett presently include 100- to 400-level University Studies courses and graduate courses in education. Other courses, including online courses, enable students to complete requirements for several degrees entirely at the Kennett campus, including bachelor of science degrees in agribusiness, child development, elementary and middle school education,  and interdisciplinary studies, as well as the Bachelor of General Studies degree.

The Kennett campus had 1,202 duplicated enrollments for the fall 2010 semester. Blanchard says enrollment growth at the campus can be attributed to both students who want to attend the local University campus and many others who are interested in completing bachelor’s degrees.

“Our class schedule is designed with day, evening and night classes for convenience and flexibility for our students, which allows us to maximize the use of our facility,” she said.

Jordan Wiseman, a student at the Kennett campus, says, “Southeast-Kennett is very convenient due to the fact it is close to home. I also prefer the small class sizes, and the professors are great.”

Amanda Blansett, a freshman at the Kennett campus, echoes those sentiments, saying, “I chose to go to Kennett over the main campus because it was so much closer to home. I love the campus. For a small campus, it offers the same competitive learning environment and is very well staffed with professors who have a lot of respect for the students.”

Community members are proud to support the regional campus and continue to understand its importance. Kennett National Bank board member Marianne Dalton said, “We tried for so long to get a higher education center here. We are thrilled to death to have it.”  “One of the keys to success for the Kennett community is to offer local higher education opportunities to our citizens,” said David Dalton, chief executive officer of Kennett National Bank. “Southeast fills this need through Southeast Missouri State University-Kennett, and we want to contribute, through good stewardship, to the growth of the community.”

“It is because of this community support, we can provide quality education to students,” Blanchard said.