Kennett Chamber Commends Southeast, Endorses Area Higher Education Center



April 29, 2005 – The Kennett Area Chamber of Commerce has commended Southeast Missouri State University for adopting the partnership agreement crafted by Higher Education Commissioner Gregory Fitch to govern the operation of the area higher education centers in Kennett, Malden and Sikeston, Mo., and encouraged Three Rivers Community College (TRCC) to follow suit.

After meeting with the presidents of both Southeast and Three Rivers in early March, Fitch developed the draft partnership agreement, which subsequently was approved by the Southeast Board of Regents March 29 but has not been approved by the TRCC Board of Trustees.

 Dr. Kenneth W. Dobbins, president of Southeast Missouri State University, said today that Southeast will teach all lower division courses this summer and fall at the three centers south of Cape Girardeau. “We need to end the confusion of students and faculty about who will be offering courses this year” at off-campus sites in the wake of a dispute between Southeast and Three Rivers Community College (TRCC) over funding of the centers’ operating costs, Dobbins said.

Dobbins said Southeast is committed to serving students throughout the University’s service region and will offer a full schedule of courses at the centers since TRCC has publicly rejected continuing its participation in teaching classes at the centers under the cost-sharing and course-sharing plan developed by Fitch.

In a letter to Dr. Kenneth W. Dobbins, president of Southeast Missouri State University, Randy Morgan, president of the Kennett Area Chamber of Commerce, and Jan McElwrath, executive director of the Kennett Chamber, wrote, “We are encouraged that Southeast continues to work in good faith with Higher Education Commissioner Gregory Fitch to reach an agreeable resolution with Three Rivers. We support the partnership agreement developed by Commissioner Fitch and applaud the Southeast Board of Regents for approving this plan. We hope that the Three Rivers Board of Trustees chooses to do the same.”

Southeast Missouri State University contends that due to multi-million dollar reductions in state appropriations since May of 2002 it is necessary to revise the original financial arrangements supporting operation of the three higher education centers.  Under those original arrangements, Southeast Missouri State University pays almost all of the direct operating costs of the centers, while Three Rivers Community College pays very few of those direct costs but receives substantial revenues as a result of teaching most of the lower division courses.

Dobbins said Southeast loses more than $800,000 a year in operating the three centers south of Cape Girardeau, while Three Rivers makes a profit of more than $900,000 annually. This disparity, he said, threatens the financial viability of the centers and forces Southeast students to pay higher fees than would otherwise be necessary. Three Rivers has steadfastly refused to assume its fair share of the operating costs, Dobbins said.

The draft agreement calls for Three Rivers Community College to teach 60 percent and Southeast 40 percent of the freshman and sophomore coursework at all three centers, while Southeast would continue teaching the junior-senior and graduate level courses. With this mix, each institution would be offering approximately half of all courses taught at the off-campus sites and each would be paying half of the direct operating costs of the centers. The Kennett Area Chamber of Commerce executives say the continued operation of KAHEC “is vital to the future of our community, our region and our state” and called for the higher education opportunities provided by KAHEC to continue “without interruption.

 “This center is important to us,” they wrote. “From initial conception to current service, our community has generously given financial support totaling nearly $1 million so that all citizens could have the opportunity to better themselves through quality higher education at a local level. KAHEC has provided just that opportunity.”

In their letter, Morgan and McElwrath say higher education is more than a room where students attend class.

“It is an environment which nourishes a dream for success,” they wrote. “Every student who enters KAHEC is welcomed and mentored and encouraged, and we applaud those who work diligently toward the continued success of the Kennett Area Higher Education Center.”

The Southeast president said that despite the best efforts of Commissioner Fitch to persuade TRCC to return to the centers as a partner, TRCC declared its intention to establish alternative sites to offer courses, thus competing directly with the centers that have been created and supported by the people of the Malden, Sikeston, and Kennett communities in partnership with Southeast.

“The efforts of the commissioner are still proceeding,” Dobbins said, “but the summer session starts May 17, so we cannot wait any longer for the Three Rivers Board of Trustees to approve the partnership proposal. Students need to know now who will be teaching the courses they need for summer and fall. Therefore, any future approval of a new partnership plan by Three Rivers will not affect the summer and fall 2005 semesters,” Dobbins added, “and students can register now with confidence that the courses they need will be available from the University at the centers.”