“We have better than a dozen national rankings,” said State Tech President Dr. Shawn Strong on Thursday in his keynote address to members of the West Central Commissioners Association, …
“We have better than a dozen national rankings,” said State Tech President Dr. Shawn Strong on Thursday in his keynote address to members of the West Central Commissioners Association, hosted by Osage County at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Westphalia. Commissioners from 20 Missouri counties, as far east as Osage, and as far west as Cass, convened to share their accomplishments and ideas.
Dr. Strong spoke enthusiastically about what State Tech is doing for Osage County and every county in Missouri that sends students to Linn to study. Of the rankings he listed, he’s most proud of the WalletHub.com publication’s listing of State Tech as the best college in the nation. WalletHub, owned by Evolution Finance, Inc., in Washington, D.C., is a personal finance resource, in this case advising parents and students where the best success can be had in return for dollars invested in higher education.
State Tech advertises that award in its billboard campaign on highways leading to Osage County. A flier distributed to commissioners by the college also listed rankings from Forbes Magazine, the Brookings Institute, and eight other prestigious publications and organizations whose endorsement is highly regarded when choosing a college. “[WalletHub looks] at student outcomes,” Dr. Strong explained. “They look at graduate outcomes.”
He was especially passionate about State Tech’s ability to change the economic status of a student. “We can take a low-income student and turn him into an upper-middle-class contributor to society,” he said, citing internal studies comparing the before and after status of graduates.
First, there’s the overwhelming success of students who enroll and complete a course of study. Dr. Strong asserted that 98% of State Tech enrollees graduate. That ranks second among all institutions of higher education in the United States. Of those graduating, the college boasts a 99% job placement rate. Low-income students have the greatest need for education to make a change in their lives and graduate at an even higher rate.
Once graduated, how do these students fare?
One indicator of their financial condition is the college loan default rate. State Tech alumni default on those loans less than 5% of the time. That compares to Missouri state and national averages of 8% and above.
“When it comes to breaking a cycle of poverty, there is no better investment than State Tech,” said Dr. Strong.
Just as importantly, according to Dr. Strong, the college is doing this for more people all the time. Since assuming the presidency in 2016, Strong has led the school to an enrollment growth rate of 65%, easily the fastest growth of any college in Missouri. It compares to the average decline of more than 10% in four-year public universities. There’s more than a 20% enrollment decline in public two-year institutions. The school is doing some things right that other schools are not now matching.
Dr. Strong says this is because the college is tuned in to Missouri’s cultural climate. “We have a governor who talks a lot about the workforce,” he explained.
State Tech, in turn, cultivates relationships and partnerships with major employers, who take advantage of the people and their skills coming out of the college. They’re hiring workers who are prepared to contribute immediately and at a high level, Dr. Strong noted.
State Tech instructors know what these companies want and have their students ready to provide those results, he added.
The most visible advancement of the cause in the county may now be the renovation of the Osage Country Club. State Tech recently took possession of the golf course south of Linn. Dr. Strong sees it as a great resource for the Commercial Turf and Grounds Department.
Dr. Strong noted that several State Tech grads are now employed by professional sports teams. “We have relationships with ballparks around the country,” he said.
He went on to talk about how some of those alumni now have World Series and Super Bowl rings, provided by championship teams that appreciate their workers’ contributions. He went beyond those laurels, though.
Dr. Strong believes improving and maintaining an entire golf club will build the department. A new clubhouse and event center, turf and grounds education center, and driving range are coming, all of which should cause a successful academic program to explode with even greater results.
Academics aside, though, Dr. Strong believes the project will help tremendously as a student recruitment tool. When students tour the campus or inquire in other ways, they often ask, “What’s there to do in Linn?” Dr. Strong said.
When they choose another institution, it’s often because of an unsatisfactory answer. The college believes the new facility will give them better answers to that query in the future.
“How do we recruit a student?” he asked rhetorically. “We’re competing against four-year schools.”
Those institutions are now better equipped to appeal to students looking for an active social life.
Dr. Strong also thinks it will be a major benefit to Osage County as well. The golf course has been flooded with State Tech students who only want to hit golf balls. His research indicates the presence of a high-quality driving range, which he believes “will probably be the nicest driving range in the state of Missouri,” when done, will relieve the course from much of the pressure it is now enduring.
Long-time members of the club will appreciate that, Dr. Strong noted, adding they’re also looking forward to a new clubhouse, swimming pool, pro shop, and sports bar.
“We’re going to invest almost $17 million in Osage County,” he said.
Dr. Strong concluded by advocating the school’s corporate approach. “We run the place like a business,” he said. “We don’t have a program that loses money.”
He was referring to larger institutions in which staff never worries about balancing ledgers. Those are free to load their programs with creative, and in many cases political, material. That may or may not actually appeal to students and their desires to prepare for life after college.
One example of this principle came as the college endured the COVID-19 pandemic. State Tech began by doing what everyone else was doing. There were shutdowns, remote learning, masks, and the rest.
Dr. Strong and his staff kept a close watch on the big picture. They analyzed data about where and when people were actually getting infected. They studied how sick victims became with certain exposures. They drew different conclusions than their competition and acted on that information much sooner, “normalizing” operations faster than other institutions in the state.
“We took a different approach,” he said. “We are probably the only school in the state that didn’t have a mask mandate [last academic year].”
He admits the situation is fluid and could change in many directions and a variety of magnitudes. However, he and his students seem satisfied with the results thus far.
Dr. Strong urged his audience to remember State Tech as citizens consider further education. He also asked them to help local employers around the state consider hiring graduates. They are well-prepared in a wide variety of industrial and career disciplines. He offered tours of the campus to any county official from anywhere in the state who would like one.
Also presenting at the event were a variety of sponsoring businesses. Others speaking at Thursday’s meeting were Missouri Association of Counties Executive Director Steve Hobbs, and representative of Team Laboratory Chemical Co., Detroit Lakes, Minn., B&H Well Drilling, of Jefferson City, and McClure Engineering, of Macon.
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