Some are calling it a higher-education game changer, a bold plan that will save students money and prepare them for careers.
The Missouri Innovation Campus, a collaboration between the University of Central Missouri and high schools and businesses in Lee’s Summit, is proposed to open this fall as a pilot program with 30 high school students.
The campus would help students get a college education as inexpensively and quickly as possible and at the same time introduce them to the work world, UCM President Charles Ambrose said.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do to make the Missouri Innovation Campus a reality, but we are committed to building a new model in higher education that ultimately will contribute to a stronger state economy.”
The plan took a step forward Thursday when Gov. Jay Nixon stopped by to announce a $500,000 community development block grant.
In his State of the State address last month, Nixon had suggested that college leaders find creative ways to limit spending and still meet their education obligations. He mentioned the Missouri Innovation Campus as one plan that “has the potential to transform how we educate students.”
Here’s how it would work: High school students would attend classes at the campus and gain enough college credits to graduate with an associate’s or perhaps even a bachelor’s degree in an engineering technology field. It would be a free, or nearly free, degree.
UCM would forgive some tuition. Businesses that would occupy space at the innovation campus would pay the students’ tuition bills in exchange for student workers — part of their learning-on-the-job education. Students would get immersed in the company culture, and when they finished their apprenticeship, a full-time job would be waiting if they wanted it.
A kind of scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours arrangement.
“We want students to come away from this totally debt-free,” said Elaine Metcalf, director of the Summit Technology Academy, a 10-year-old Lee’s Summit School District program that trains students in science, technology, engineering and math.
The grant Nixon announced Thursday will underwrite apprenticeships and training opportunities for students at businesses like Cerner, Exergonix Inc., Sprint and DST.
The campus will be on part of 87 acres being developed in Lee’s Summit by Exergonix, a startup company specializing in utility-size storage units for electricity.
Don Nissanka, president and CEO of Exergonix, came up with the idea as a way to create more innovation technology jobs in Missouri and to expand the workforce to fill them.
“I was finding it very difficult to find qualified workers,” he said.