Finally, A College Where I’d Send My Grandkids

A no-nonsense approach to teaching real-world skills pays off at State Tech.

By Jack Cashill

Higher education has not covered itself in glory in recent years. The headlines are replete with tales of rising costs, falling enrollments, and university presidents needing “context” to decide whether anti-Semitism is a bad thing.

Although my wife and I each have a Ph.D. I recently recommended to my daughter that she not send her kids to college at all. “How about the military?” I suggested. If nothing else, we’d save some money, and the kids wouldn’t be taught to hate their Boomer grandparents. My daughter still needs some convincing.

I will have to tell her about the Missouri college which has caused me to rethink my growing cynicism. Here’s the headline out of “State Tech” that caught my eye, “6th Straight Year of Record-Breaking Enrollment.”

Officially the State Technical College of Missouri, State Tech is located in Linn, a town of 1,350 souls about 20 miles southeast of Jefferson City. The website provides no map. Administrators figure if you’re coming to State Tech, you can probably figure out how to get there on your own.

Closer to the national enrollment norm is the University of Missouri. Although “flatline” is not a welcome word in a hospital setting, at MU, administrators were popping champagne corks after learning that this year, enrollment had, at least, ceased to decline. Each of the previous six years, enrollment had fallen.

You’d think that a university with a “Tiger Grotto” would attract the best and brightest. After all, what student could resist a zero-depth pool entry with a high-powered vortex, lazy river and waterfall, a space that promises to “transform your dullest day into a vacation.”

Reading about the Tiger Grotto, I am reminded of the scene in National Lampoon’s Vacation when the adolescent Rusty sees his father Clark skinny-dipping in a motel pool with a nameless hottie. When Clark tries to explain that he was merely trying to place an order with a “swimming pool waitress,” Rusty deadpans, “Do you think mom will buy it?”

Well, in the case of the Tiger Grotto, a lot of moms haven’t been buying it. A lot of dads too. They’re not working second jobs, so little Rusty can spend his otherwise dull days floating around in a high-powered vortex.

The Activity Center at State Tech, by contrast, boasts not of a pool but of pool tables (air hockey too!). The feature image for the center, in fact, shows a young woman shooting pool. There may not be a grotto at State Tech, but there is a “Lounge Area”—a half-dozen plastic chairs, artfully arranged—“a great place to unwind with friends or study in between classes.”

One of the three featured images on the MU website is a photo of the football stadium above the headline, “Investing in the future.” That future includes a $62 million renovation to Memorial Stadium. If State Tech students want to watch football, they just drive to Columbia, less than an hour away. Or they can stay home and play dodgeball at the activity center, a sport not yet banned in central Missouri.

What makes State Tech attractive to both students and parents is not the frivolities but the fact that the two-year school has a 99 percent job placement rate, the highest in the country. MU tells us that they are “transforming the future.” State Tech tells us, “We are the employer’s choice.”

From the website images, it is not hard to see why employers might feel that way. The viewer sees short clips of everyday students operating heavy equipment, welding, driving tractors, repairing vehicles, doing physical therapy with real people.

The focus at State Tech, says President Shawn Strong, “is world-class technical education.” He continues, “We don’t do online education, we don’t do short-term credentials, we don’t cater to part-time students, we really don’t do much of anything that contemporary higher education says we should be doing.”

As Strong knows, however, even the best-performing colleges and universities will be facing a demographic phenomenon known as the “enrollment cliff.” “In two years,” Strong says, “we will start to see a long-term trend of smaller high school graduating classes. I am a little more bearish on enrollment. I think this is the long-term norm.”

Administrators have seen this coming since 2008, when birth rates dipped as a result of that year’s major recession. “The enrollment cliff poses a Darwinian threat to higher education,” warns educator Mark Drozdowski, “allowing only the wealthiest and market-savviest to survive.”

None of the state colleges in Kansas or Missouri are wealthy by university standards. Layoffs of even tenured professors no longer shock, but what does shock is the failure of university administrators to anticipate the end game. The lemmings are heading toward the cliff, thinking somehow that their useless gender studies programs, pointless wave machines, and counterproductive DEI regimes will buy them time. They won’t.

State Tech is hardly among the wealthiest, but it ranks high among the savviest. To survive in the future, Strong has been building ongoing relationships with the business community. “The days of showing up at a career fair and hiring students are long gone,” he says. “If you haven’t been building a partnership along the way, the odds of hiring students are greatly diminished.”

Strong believes in doing things “the old-fashioned way from a delivery standpoint.” The approach has not changed much from when Strong attended a technical college 30 years ago. “As a result,” he says, “we do one thing, and we do it better than anyone; employers know it, and students know if you want the best, you go to State Tech.”

Now, if only I can convince my daughter to send her kids to State Tech. With good jobs, they can take care of me in my dotage and maybe even install a “lazy river” in the backyard.

About the author

Jack Cashill is Ingram's Senior Editor and has been affiliated with the magazine for more than 30 years. He can be reached at jackcashill@yahoo.com. The views expressed in this column are the writer's own and do not necessarily reflect those of Ingram's Magazine.

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