LAKE OF THE OZARKS, Mo. — Ozarks Technical Community College (OTC) is considering building a campus at Lake of the Ozarks.

The college, one of the few community colleges officially designated as a multi-campus college in Missouri, began in Springfield, but has continued to grow through southwest Missouri. 

“We’re aggressive. We run like a business,” Dr. Hal Higdon, Chancellor of the Ozarks Technical Community College System, told the Osage Beach Board of Aldermen during a presentation on Oct. 3. He added, “75% of our revenue is tuition.”

OTC has three campuses and two centers in Missouri: Springfield, Richwood Valley/Nixa, Hollister (Table Rock), Lebanon, and Waynesville. A sixth, in Republic, is set to open in August of 2020. And they’re hinting that the seventh campus could be at Lake of the Ozarks.

“You have a unique area here,” Higdon told the board of aldermen, noting the area’s distance from any large cities causes labor challenges, and can often result in high school grads leaving the region in search of better education and better job prospects.

“Shortage of labor and a desire to keep their students from moving away to go to school” have been the impetus for communities like Hollister to welcome an OTC campus, he said. Ninety-four percent of OTC students stay in the town where they graduate, he said, adding, “We want your kids to stay here.”

The Lake already has multiple college campuses: State Fair Community College, and Columbia College behind Lowe’s in Osage Beach.

State Fair Community College has been at Lake of the Ozarks for 36 years, and currently operates in a 28,000 square-foot facility with 11 classrooms, three science labs, three computer labs, and one open computer lab. Since 2013, the SFCC - Lake of the Ozarks campus has served more than 4,000 students, of traditional and non-traditional age. Enrollment this fall is 310 students.

The college has been irked by OTC's overtures to Lake area leaders, particularly by Higdon's claim at an Eggs & Issues breakfast in September that the area did not have a community college. "Why is OTC and Camdenton exploring this option, when there is a comprehensive community college already at the Lake?" said Brad Henderson, Executive Director of Marketing and Communication for SFCC. He pointed out SFCC comprehensive community college and offers General Education, Technical Programs, Allied Health (nursing, dental, radiology, etc.), and Workforce Training programs.

 

Henderson continued, "The OTC plan will not give the lake area anything they don’t already have. It would simply build a new campus on the other side of the lake and increase taxes. So someone really needs to ask, why?"

At the Eggs & Issues Breakfast, Higdon acknowledged Missouri's other community college systems, saying, "All 12 community colleges do a great job." But, he said, "We feel like we do it better."

Higdon says OTC would only come to the Lake if they were wanted, and voters would have to indicate that desire by approving a property tax levy specifically for the college. This is the college’s growth model: partner with school districts that express an interest in seeing a local campus, and then ask voters within that district to approve a tax levy. Once the new campus is opened, students who live within that district receive significant tuition discounts at OTC.

The college’s levy is 20 cents, which Higdon says is approximately equal to the savings a local student would receive on a single credit hour.

Several weeks ago, Camdenton School District administration and Camdenton city aldermen toured OTC campuses. The college has been working with Camdenton R-III School District and they are discussing the possibility of putting an OTC-specific levy on the April 7, 2020 ballot. “This is not something we (OTC) would put on your ballot,” he emphasized. The decision would be the school district’s to make. Camdenton Schools Superintendent Tim Hadfield said the Camdenton Board of Education will be considering this possibility at the board's meeting on Monday, Oct. 14.

The new campus could open as early as 2022 or 2023, and Higdon said Missouri State University would work with OTC to allow students to finish some four-year degrees on this campus. However, OTC’s special focus is visible in other campuses they’ve opened, with programs for HVAC, Construction, Emergency Tech, and Nursing. View the full academic degree/certification catalog.

Other area school districts could come aboard too, whenever they want, he said, giving the example of one OTC campus where the line where two school districts met crossed through a neighborhood. Families at one end of the street received discounted tuition, but families at the other end did not. Eventually the neighboring district realized the opportunity, and approved the levy on their own ballot, he said. In the same way, other Lake area districts could come aboard any time, and once they pass the levy, their residents too would receive tuition discounts.

If the levy goes on the ballot for Camdenton R-III voters and is approved, Higdon said OTC would begin a search for land to build. “We only build campuses on main highways,” he emphasized, noting the college would be looking for approximately 10 acres. The assessed value of the area would allow them to bond for the build, he said, suggesting OTC would likely end up investing $15-20 million in the Lake campus. Revenues from the local levy would not go into one big OTC fund, he promised: “We will spend Lake money on the Lake.”

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