The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

July 1, 2013

Our View: 70.63 percent

The Joplin Globe

— Amid the challenges that have beset Missouri Southern State University of late, there came this note: Southern ranks as one of the best deals in the nation for out-of-state students. That’s according to the latest study by U.S. News and World Report.

We should note, we believe Southern remains one of the best deals for in-state students, too.

As MSSU’s board of governors weighs new leadership and new directions, we urge them to keep one thing in mind. As important as the international mission or the proposed medical school are, or will be in the future, at its heart there is one figure that will make or break Southern: 70.63 percent.

Wages in Joplin remain depressed. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average hourly wage of a worker in the Joplin metropolitan area (Jasper and Newton counties) is $16.62; for the nation as a whole, it is $23.53. That difference of nearly $7 per hour means we are at only 70.63 percent of the national average when it comes to wages for Joplin-area workers.

If Southern is to remain viable in the future, its tuition and fees must reflect the area it serves.

Right now they do.

A year of tuition and fees for a full-time student at Southern costs $5,816, according to the school’s website, at a time when the national average for four-year public colleges is $8,655, according to the College Board (the folks who bring you the ACT.)

In other words, the cost of a year at MSSU is 67.12 percent of the national average for four-year public colleges.

The trick will be keeping the cost of a university education aligned with what people in the area earn.

So far, under previous and current leadership, they have done a great job keeping that aligned, as the numbers indicate, but as the state shifts the burden of a college education away from taxpayers and toward students and their families, and as this nationwide collusion (a strong word, we know) between universities and lenders removes pressure to keep a lid on costs, Southern is going to have to fight hard to keep costs down.

The international mission has been great for Southern.

A medical school partnership also would be great.

But the focus — the mission, really — has to be on 70.63 percent.

Lose sight of that reality, and none of the other steps will matter.