Dr. Drew Bennett, chancellor of Missouri State University-West Plains, shakes the hand of Dr. Devin Stephenson, president of Three Rivers College, shortly after signing the new agreement between the two institutions. Willow Springs City Administrator Bob Pollard, standing, left, and Mayor Jay Waggoner look on.

Beginning in January, Willow Springs residents won’t have to leave the city limits to take college-level courses, thanks to an agreement signed last week between Three Rivers College and Missouri State University. 

The signing event was at Willow Springs High School, with State Sen. Mike Cunningham, leadership from Three Rivers and MSU, as well as members of the Willow Springs community attending.

The Three Rivers College and Missouri State University agreement creates the higher education center in Willow Springs that will be called the South Central Education Consortium.  Starting with the spring semester in January, Three Rivers will offer technical and remedial courses augmented by general education courses offered at the center by Missouri State University-West Plains.

“Willow Springs schools have shown excellence in getting students to graduate from high school, and now the new higher education center will help keep them in the area, giving them job skills to make a living wage,” said Cunningham. “Our aim is to do what’s right for the kids, and that commitment made everything happen.”

The new center will allow area residents to complete two-year technical degrees and short-term certificates from Three Rivers College, with the general education components of those degrees provided by Missouri State-West Plains. The general education courses are eligible for transfer to a four-year college or university, while articulation agreements with four-year institutions across Missouri and Arkansas allow for the transfer of credits earned through Three Rivers’ programs. The Willow Springs location will offer multiple certificate and degree options, including certified nursing assistant, emergency medical technician, fire science, and general studies programs.

“Important to Three Rivers’ success is our ability to build partnerships with communities, employers and other educational institutions across the state to bring affordable, high-quality education to our service area,” said Dr. Devin Stephenson, president of Three Rivers College. “We’re proud to work with city and county officials along with MSU to make the dream of the best jobs and education a reality in Willow Springs. Without the advocacy of Sen. Mike Cunningham and his colleagues in the legislature and Gov. Jay Nixon this consortium would not be possible.”

Three Rivers and Missouri State-West Plains will co-administer the project through the newly created consortium, with each institution receiving the proceeds from the programs and classes it provides. By the terms of the agreement, classes will be provided at Three Rivers’ tuition and fee schedule, though each institution is allowed to levy appropriate course-specific fees. The agreement will continue through 2016, with the option to renew the contract for one-year periods from that point forward.

 “We have enjoyed a long and productive relationship with Willow Springs since we were founded in 1963,” said Dr. Drew Bennett, Chancellor of Missouri State University-West Plains.  “We look forward to working with Three Rivers to provide these additional opportunities in Willow Springs to supplement our on-campus and online offerings.”

Willow Springs Mayor Jay Waggoner, City Administrator Bob Pollard and Superintendent Derrick Hutsell voiced their support for the center being established in a former Missouri Department of Transportation facility, now owned by the City of Willow Springs. The Willow Springs civic and community leaders said that they wanted to raise the overall education level of citizens, as well as prepare new workers for the area economy.

“It’s been a long road to this point, but we’re excited to finally be moving forward with the center at Willow Springs,” said Dr. Wesley Payne, vice president for Learning at Three Rivers College. “We expect to serve 25 to 50 students this spring alone, with many more to come. I think everyone involved will feel that this facility has definitely been worth the wait.”

The Willow Springs facility will be a full-service Three Rivers center, where students can register for Three Rivers classes across the service region and online, joining the roster of Three Rivers centers in Sikeston, Kennett, Malden, Dexter and Cape Girardeau. Missouri State will help coordinate offerings and services with the West Plains campus.

“The fact is, this consortium would not have happened without Sen. Mike Cunningham adding $150,000 to the budget,” said Clifton M. Smart, president of Missouri State University.  “We very much appreciate him taking this initiative, and we appreciate the governor signing it and making it available.  We look forward to a successful relationship with Three Rivers and the City of Willow Springs.”

In making the announcement, the two institutions reiterated their commitment to improving the quality of life in south-central Missouri with quality, affordable higher education. 

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