Missouri Western State University, the St. Joseph Metro Chamber, the Community Alliance of St. Joseph, the St. Joseph School District and other partners in the Buchanan County Degree Attainment Initiative are actively seeking additional businesses to join the partnership.

The initiative is funded by a $1 million Innovation Campus grant announced by Gov. Jay Nixon last summer. The program provides financial assistance for area residents to earn college degrees while receiving real-world training opportunities in local businesses.

“So far, seven caregivers from Heartland Health and an employee of Hillyard Industries have been selected to participate in this program,” said Dr. Gordon Mapley, dean of the Western Institute at Missouri Western. “That’s a good start for the first year, but we have funding to support at least 126 participants, so we are hoping that additional businesses will join our partnership and give their employees an opportunity to complete their college degrees and enhance their ability to contribute to the business and the region’s economy.”

The Buchanan County Degree Attainment Initiative focuses on helping working adults complete degrees that were begun earlier in life. Missouri has about 750,000 citizens with college credit but no college degree. Locally, the St. Joseph region trails the nation in the percentage of the population with a bachelor’s degree or more, meaning that many businesses in high impact industries have job openings that remain unfilled.

“What’s encouraging is that the St. Joseph region is slightly above the national average in the percentage of residents with at least a high school diploma and those with some college,” Dr. Mapley said. “Our region is particularly well served by a program to develop high school graduates and those with some college into college graduates with coursework focused in areas of need by the region’s high demand industries.”

The Buchanan County initiative is one of nine Innovation Campus programs across the state. State officials have commended the initiative for implementing the program with business partnerships as originally designed. Dr. Mapley and Joan Summers, workforce development coordinator at Heartland Health, have been invited to make a presentation at the Governor’s Conference on Economic Development in Kansas City Sept. 5. They will talk about many facets of the partnership, including the customization of curriculum to meet the needs of business. Missouri Western has created an accelerated Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree program in response to a request from Heartland, for example.

Business partners in the Buchanan County Degree Attainment Initiative train employees and potential employees through high impact apprenticeships and mentoring programs. Students in the program receive financial support of up to $7,500 to help them earn relevant college degrees.

“During President Obama’s recent visit to the University of Central Missouri, he noted that their Innovation Campus program ‘is exactly the kind of innovation we need when it comes to college costs,’” Dr. Mapley said. “Similarly, we believe our program can help make college completion affordable for working adults, and we hope more businesses will join us in enhancing the skills of the region’s workforce.”

Missouri Western State University is a comprehensive regional university providing a blend of traditional liberal arts and professional degree programs. The university offers student-centered, high quality instruction that focuses on experience-based learning, community service, and state-of-the-art technology. Missouri Western is located in St. Joseph, Mo., and is committed to the educational, economic, cultural and social development of the region it serves. Visit www.missouriwestern.edu.