Gov. Parson Signs Bill Designating Southeast with a Statewide Mission in Computer Science, Cybersecurity, and Visual and Performing Arts


Dr. Vargas and Gov. Parson tour Southeast facilities during a 2018 cybersecurity event.

Gov. Mike Parson signed House Bill 297 (HB 297) into law on Tuesday, July 13, officially designating Southeast Missouri State University as an institution of higher education with a statewide mission in the areas of computer science, cybersecurity, and visual and performing arts.

Southeast President Dr. Carlos Vargas was at the ceremony in Jefferson City when Gov. Parson signed the legislation. “I want to thank Gov. Parson for recognizing our unique strength and public service to the state in the areas computer science, cybersecurity, and visual and performing arts education,” said Vargas. “I would also like to thank Missouri Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development Commissioner, Ms. Zora Mulligan, and her staff for their guidance during this process, and Representative Wayne Wallingford and Senator Holly Rehder for their leadership in getting this bill through the legislative process and onto the governor’s desk.”

Efforts to earn this statewide designation began in May 2019 when Southeast submitted its application to the Coordinating Board for Higher Education (CBHE). The CBHE unanimously endorsed the University’s request in September 2019.

One of the criteria to receive this designation is that an institution must offer one or more programs of unusual strength, supported by the receipt of national, discipline-specific accreditations, or independent certifications for meeting national or state standards, among other possible areas of evidence.

In its application, and during conversations with state lawmakers and policy officials, Southeast noted the following in support of the institution’s strength and capacity in the requested areas:

  • In 2011, Southeast was the first school in Missouri to start an undergraduate cybersecurity degree and it was one of the first four schools in the nation and the first in Missouri to be accredited by the Accrediting Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) under newly established cybersecurity-specific criteria.
  • Southeast is a National Security Agency (NSA) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education, the only public four-year non-University of Missouri school with this designation.
  • Southeast is the only institution in Missouri with a separate campus dedicated to the arts, and the only institution in the state with specialized accreditation in all areas of the arts – theatre (National Association of Schools of Theatre), dance (National Association of Schools of Dance), art and design (National Association of Schools of Art and Design), and music (National Association of Schools of Music).

Since its application in spring 2019, Southeast’s computer science, cybersecurity, and visual and performing arts programs have continued to demonstrate their strength in Missouri and throughout the country. For example, the University’s cybersecurity students are 9-time Missouri Collegiate Cyber Defense Champions, the Jeannine Larson Dobbins Conservatory of Theatre and Dance was named the top theatre program in Missouri by OnStage Blog, and Southeast was the first institution in the nation to be publicly announced as a member of the inaugural group of institutions to receive the Yamaha Institution of Excellence designation.

In addition to their academic and programmatic distinctions, Southeast’s computer science, cybersecurity, and visual and performing arts programs provide a significant public service. In spring 2020, Southeast launched its Institute for Cybersecurity that includes a fully functioning Cyber Range to further research, education and service activities in the ever-growing, high-need field of cybersecurity; and the University’s visual and performing arts students have exhibited, performed or hosted more than 300,000 patrons at the River Campus since it opened in 2007, generating an economic impact exceeding $3 million.

“For nearly 150 years, Southeast has taken seriously its role to serve the citizens of southeast Missouri and the surrounding region, and it has a rich history of producing graduates that become successful business leaders, health care providers, entrepreneurs, educators, artists and performers, agriculture professionals, scientists, and citizens of tomorrow,” Vargas said. “This statewide mission designation is a recognition of the University’s academic success and programmatic quality, and is a testament to the talent and expertise of the University’s faculty and staff that are the foundation of our academic excellence.”

With the signing of HB 297, Southeast will have the distinction of being the only school in Missouri with a statewide mission in the areas of computer science, cybersecurity and the visual and performing arts. The legislation will take effect on Aug. 28, 2021.