WEBB CITY, Mo. —
Tim Wolfe, president of the four-campus University of Missouri System, stopped by Webb City Junior High School on Wednesday to promote the importance of having a college degree.
“I firmly believe that a college education is a person’s greatest opportunity for a successful life,” he said in a statement. “By any measure — income, prosperity, health — a college education has a profound effect on an individual, which in turn can provide a tremendous boost to our communities, culture and state as a whole.”
Wolfe also toured EaglePicher Technologies in Joplin, where he discussed work force development needs with officials from the company. The visits were part of Wolfe’s Show Me Value Tour, which he launched earlier this year in an effort to start a discussion with Missourians about higher education.
In an interactive presentation at the junior high school, Wolfe, who worked for years in business before being named MU system president in late 2011, told students that college is “the best investment possible.” Having an advanced degree represents a sense of accomplishment as well as offering a plethora of choices in job opportunities and salary options for many, he said.
Wolfe told students that he didn’t intend to push them toward one of the four system campuses, nor necessarily to a college or university in Missouri, although he acknowledged later that one of the objectives of his tour is to keep educated Missourians in the state.
He said students should think seriously about making a college education part of their plans.
“I’m not here to tell you what your path should be,” he said. “I’m here to tell you that, first and foremost, you should be yourself. Education is a path to lifelong success.”
Wolfe acknowledged that some of the primary obstacles to students seeking a higher degree are the rising cost of tuition and the prospect of facing insurmountable debt upon completion of the degree. He also said many students fear the inability to find a job relative to their field in an economic market that has languished over the past few years.
Undergraduate, in-state tuition in the MU system ranges from about $245 per credit hour at Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla to $274 per credit hour at MU in Columbia. Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, meanwhile, has regularly touted its tuition, at $173.20 per credit hour, as being among the lowest in the state.
But financial aid opportunities exist for students who seek them out, Wolfe said. A majority of the 75,000 students across the four-campus system qualify for and receive financial aid, he said.
And citing statistics from the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit research organization, he said students who obtain a college degree earn an average of $1.6 million more over their lifetime than students who don’t have a college degree.
“If you have the grades and the will to go on to college, don’t lose hope,” he said.
Eighth-grader Addie Darby said she already had begun thinking about college before Wolfe’s presentation, and it reinforced to her the value of an education.
“I just thought it helped me think about more of what I’d like to do when I grow up,” said Darby, who hopes to one day become a veterinarian. “I think it (a college education) is important so you can get a good job and enjoy what you do.”
Wolfe told reporters after his presentation that his stops along the tour target middle school and junior high school students because they are at the age at which they are thinking about finishing high school and taking steps to prepare for their futures.
“I think it’s necessary to have these conversations with middle school students so they keep the passion (of learning),” he said.
At EaglePicher, Wolfe and leaders of the company discussed the ways in which higher education can serve the private sector. MU, as the state’s land-grant institution, conducts a majority of the research of public institutions in the state and has a particularly beneficial relationship with businesses such as EaglePicher, which produces specialty batteries.
The group cited the success of the Missouri Center for Advanced Power Systems Research, a partnership among EaglePicher, MSSU, MU and a handful of other Missouri universities that seeks to provide to students a minor in energy storage and technologies.
Bob Higgins, a scientist at EaglePicher, said more than 100 students across the state have enrolled in the specialized classes, which will prepare them to enter the work force in companies focused on new power system technologies.
“It’s headed in the right direction,” he said.
Tia Strait, dean of the School of Health Sciences at MSSU, said the course material could also be marketed to energy companies to help them educate new employees.
Stops on tour
TIM WOLFE, president of the MU system, previously visited residents and students in Moberly, St. Joseph, Farmington and Lebanon on his Show Me Value Tour. Additional stops are planned monthly through the rest of the academic year.