Mará Rose Williams | UMKC and Rockhurst engineer a deal

Mará Rose Williams
Mará Rose Williams

University of Missouri-Kansas City and Rockhurst University officials shook hands recently on an unusual public/private partnership with the potential to deepen the area’s pool of engineering and information technology workers.

For years, employers have complained about a shortage of qualified U.S. workers for engineering and information technology jobs and about having to hire foreign workers to fill those jobs.

The agreement between Rockhurst and UMKC could help change that.

“Together, UMKC and Rockhurst University will make significant contributions to the local and regional workforce by preparing the next generation of engineering and information technology professionals,” UMKC Chancellor Leo Morton said. “… We believe this crossing of Troost Avenue will create a synergy that will enliven the learning communities on both sides of the street.”

Residents who live in the neighborhoods around the two universities have been requesting for some time that the two work together more.

Granted, the two schools aren’t huge rivals, but just by being cross-street urban schools — one public and one private — they are competitors in some ways, said Rockhurst graduate and UMKC supporter Greg Graves, the chief executive officer at the Burns & McDonnell engineering firm.

This partnership is a big deal, he said, because it allows students who want the Catholic campus experience as well as a degree in either engineering or information technology to remain Rockhurst students while taking needed classes at UMKC.

Kevin Truman, dean of UMKC’s engineering department, spent months preparing the agreement.

Rockhurst’s students pay their full tuition. Then Rockhurst pays UMKC for delivering engineering and IT courses. Both schools get revenue. The first students will enroll in the fall.

Students will take their general education or core courses plus all their math and sciences on the Rockhurst campus. They can select from five degree options.

“The demand here for this type of student has strongly outpaced supply,” Graves said.

Rockhurst students for years have asked for engineering classes at the Jesuit university.

“We got about 1,200 inquiries every year for the last several years about whether engineering was offered on our campus,” said Tim McDonald, dean of the College of Arts and Science.

“The reason we don’t offer it is because we don’t have the full-time faculty. We don’t have the equipment. We don’t have the lab space.”

UMKC has all of that and, more important, it has seats in its engineering classrooms for Rockhurst students.

Not having this agreement before now probably cost Rockhurst some students who went to other Jesuit schools, McDonald said. Rockhurst didn’t get those tuition dollars, and Kansas City missed out on an economic boost.