Truly great cities have one key asset in common: first-class universities that attract top-tier students and faculty.
In this realm, though, Kansas City is still a work in progress.
Fairly or not, the University of Missouri-Kansas City has long been labeled a commuter campus, a not-so-desirable distinction that has bogged the school down and put it in a different echelon than the University of Missouri at Columbia, the flagship of the four-campus system.
But times are changing in higher education. And Mizzou’s standing took another hit this week.
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For the first time in recent years, MU was not the first choice of the state’s college-bound seniors.
Missouri State University, tucked into the southern portion of the state in Springfield, nabbed that distinction by a significant margin. This isn’t a rounding error.
More than 4,500 seniors, or 8.5 percent of those reporting, ranked Missouri State as their top choice. Only 7.7 percent of the 53,000 students reporting their college choices picked MU, which placed second among seniors taking the ACT exam.
UMKC should see an opportunity in these rankings. Smaller, less expensive campuses that historically have been overshadowed by Mizzou now are successfully competing for the same students. And while MU is struggling to rebuild its reputation, UMKC should be racing to bolster its own.
There’s plenty of room for improvement.
Among students who took the ACT exam and revealed their top college choice, UMKC ranked fourth, lagging behind Missouri State, Mizzou and Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg. Only 1,328 students listed UMKC as their top choice.
UMKC should set goals now to grow that number and move up in the rankings. Now is the time for UMKC to embrace what it could become, with an assist from Kansas City’s civic and business leaders.
Moving the needle will require money, energy, vision and collective commitment from local and university leaders to strengthen Kansas City’s public university.
This is about the future of Kansas City. And a stronger university within our city’s core would have a wide-ranging impact. Amazon’s stated desire to build its second headquarters in a city with a strong university system is a relevant reminder of just what’s at stake.
The time is ripe for UMKC to raise its profile and establish itself as a destination campus. But both the Kansas City civic community and the university must join forces to achieve that goal.