Located amidst the lush hills and spring-fed rivers of the Missouri Ozarks, Missouri State University-West Plains has provided an island of opportunity in an area with among the lowest education attainment levels in the nation. As the only open admissions, public institution of higher education in the region, it provides higher education access to counties with 22.1-28.3% poverty rates. Statistics show that families living below the poverty threshold in the region are comparable to inner city populations such as those found in Chicago (22.7%) and St. Louis (28.8%) US Census Bureau 2015 Update. Although the poverty of the region is often not apparent to those passing through, it is persistent and pernicious, eating away at the potential of residents to achieve their life goals.
In addressing the needs of our service region, we understand that attaining a higher education is key. Research shows that the attainment of a college degree increases lifetime earnings of graduates significantly, and those benefits percolate out to the wider region.
We have achieved measurable successes in the past 53 years. Our students consistently score above the national average on nationally-normed Collegiate Assessment of Academic Proficiency (CAAP) tests that measure math, English, reading, science reasoning critical thinking skills. When our graduates go on to baccalaureate institutions, they are often more successful than students who start at those institutions as freshmen. Our students are eager to learn, eager to be successful and our campus has been instrumental in opening the doors to occupations ranging from nursing to neurology from agriculture to veterinary medicine from accounting to entrepreneurship. We, and the Missouri State University system, have been critical to the economic life of the region. But, there is more to do and there are new challenges that will need to be addressed as we continue to meet our vision and mission.
The Missouri State University-West Plains Long-Range Plan, 2017-2022, takes a sober look at what our institution has accomplished in the past, the challenges it faces today and lays out a strategic plan that creates pathways to where we must go in order to better serve the citizens of our region and state.
The Plan was crafted through a yearlong process of data collection, analysis and input from all parts of the campus and the community. It re-crafts our mission and vision in light of careful analysis of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that challenge our institution and lays out a series of measurable goals and the strategies to achieve those goals.
The Plan is based on a fundamental understanding of our unique student body and the challenges they face in acquiring a college education. As an open admission campus, like many two-year institutions in Missouri, 75% of our students require at least one developmental education course in math, reading and/or English. In our area, most of our students have jobs in addition to attending school many have families. Our region lacks reliable internet service. Thirty percent of students surveyed in Spring 2016 responded that they lack reliable internet service in their homes sufficient to support taking an online class. Sixty percent of students indicated that if we were not located in this region, they would have no hope of gaining a college education. This makes our physical location in the region critical to higher educational access and the economic future of the region. These obstacles to student success make it incumbent on our institution to be proactive in recognizing challenges that arise to educational access and watchful for hidden barriers to student success. Many of our students are first generation college students who swim against a tide of adverse economic conditions. Their education can be stopped by a car accident, a sick child, a lost job.
We recognize that without the ongoing support of statewide institutions, we could not succeed in our mission. Our region lacks deep pockets. The West Plains campus receives 53% of our funding from the state, compared to 35% for the Springfield campus. Our campus does not have nor can it afford a local tax base.
This Long-Range Plan exhibits the determination of the West Plains campus to successfully negotiate the road ahead and to do a better job in the next five years of meeting the needs of our region and our students. It carefully and realistically examines the challenges we face and proposes a series of strategies that will allow us to be more effective in positively impacting this high-poverty, isolated rural region.
In carrying out this Long-Range Plan, we will successfully fulfill our own mission and vision by extending quality and accessible higher education opportunities to our area. In so doing, we are also serving the Public Service mission of the University system as a whole.
By increasing diversity in our region, we will increase cultural competence. By careful planning, husbanding of resources and increasing student learning outcomes we will provide ethical leadership. By working within our communities to meet the current and anticipated future needs of the population we will enhance community engagement. In achieving the strategic goals of the Plan, we serve not only those in our region and our own mission but also the public service mission of the University system as a whole, which has been called "the heart of the University."