You can’t engage site-selection consultants in a discussion on the merits of any metropolitan area without addressing one key element of their calculus: Education. That can mean everything from the quality of the public and private K-12 system to the number of overall graduates, or the range of post-secondary options in private and public universities, from the smallest faith-based private campus to the largest public research institution.
And this is an area where Kansas City, in the dead center of a two-state region, remarkably shines. Combined, the collegiate universe in the two-state area had considerably more than 500,000 students enrolled last year.
Dig into those numbers by starting with public universities, where two state systems sit adjacent to one another, on either side of this metro area. Between them, those public institutions enrolled nearly 350,000 students in the 2014-15 school year, including both undergraduate and graduate students.
Working from KC’s geographic core outward, you’ll find the University of Missouri-Kansas City at the center of it all. One of four campuses that make up the University of Missouri system (satellite sisters in St. Louis and Rolla and the mother ship campus in Columbia), UMKC has enrollment approaching 16,000 students. About 40 percent of them are at the graduate level, a rate nearly twice the two-state public-university average.
Bolstering that figure is the nationally recognized Bloch School of Management and a suite of programs in health-care education matched by only a handful of universities nationwide: UMKC has under its programming schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry and pharmacy. That all are located near Downtown, and work with teaching hospitals Truman Medical Center and Children’s Mercy Hospital, is a tremendous asset for the region’s commercial center.
UMKC is moving to expand its Downtown footprint with a new campus for its Conservatory of Music and Dance. It’s well on its way to a $48 million private-fund-raising goal to build the new campus and create an even more vibrant arts climate around the world-class Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
Not far to the west, in Lawrence, is the University of Kansas, the state’s largest public university by total enrollment—more than 27,000 students enrolled across the university’s campuses. Here again, Kansas City overall, and the commercial core, benefit from the significant presence of KU’s schools of medicine and nursing, based in the KU Medical Center campus that abuts State Line and the Midtown area.
But KU also is tied into academic research at the University of Kansas Hospital and KU Cancer Center, also based on the med center’s growing campus.
And speaking of medical education, the largest med school in the Midwest is based here: Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences, which recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. It has produced more than 10,000 osteopathic physicians since its inception.
Farther out on the Missouri side are the MU campus in Columbia, with 36,000 students, and the network of Missouri state-funded universities—“directional schools,” in the parlance of college athletics fans. West of state line, there is Kansas State University, the state’s land-grant university, with 24,000 students, and an emerging research center with construction of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility on the Manhattan campus. There’s also Wichita State University, home to nationally known programs in entrepreneurship and aviation engineering, and other members of the Kan-sas Regents colleges, including Pittsburg State, Emporia State and Fort Hays State.
The metro area’s other public-college assets are built around Metropolitan Community College, which has more than 20,000 students on its five campuses; Johnson County Community College, the largest undergraduate institution in Kansas at roughly 19,000 enrolled; and Kansas City Kansas Community College, with 7,000 more students.
Private colleges in the area more than held their ground on enrollment, compared to tax-supported public institutions, with nearly 150,000 undergraduate students and an even higher proportion of grad-school enrollment—one student in five on a private-college campus was a grad student last year, compared to about 14 percent on the public side.
Among the larger campuses are institutions like Park University in nearby Parkville, a slice of small-town campus feel just a few miles from Downtown; Rockhurst University, a Jesuit institution that sits across Troost Avenue from UMKC; Baker University, a leader in grad-school education; Mid-America Nazarene College in Olathe, Avila University in south Kansas City, and not far away, Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan. In addition, a number of regional colleges have satellite campuses in the area.
For those studying K-12 options, the range of public and private offerings is similarly bounteous. Straddling the urban core are dozens of high-performing public school districts, with three in particular known for their levels of overall academic achievement: The Park Hill and Lee’s Summit districts on the Missouri side, and the Blue Valley district in Kansas. Blue Valley, in fact, had three of its six high schools—North, West and Northwest—recognized by Newsweek.com as among the 500 best nationwide, and Nos. 2, 3 and 4 in Kansas.