Keeping our talent at home

SOAR tackles brain drain
The Southern Ozarks Alliance for Rural Development (SOAR) convened on Nov. 9 to discuss stemming brain drain from the area. The speaker was Dennis Lancaster, Chancellor at MSU-West Plains. His short presentation was on the campus's key performance indicators. He discussed the challenges of a two-year institution in a post-pandemic world. 
Enrollment is down a little, Lancaster reported. Notably, the numbers of students taking part in A-plus programs has dropped. 
"Here, we're still dealing with the effects of the pandemic," Lancaster explained. "[High school] juniors are not ready to take on dual credit."
Lancaster gave a brief description of the ideas the university has launched to attract and retain students including women's softball, an e-sports program, and an upcoming men's baseball program. 
"It's a mix of things to get students to stay close to home," he said.
Discussion turned to the accessibility of a no-cost two-year degree. 
"I'm looking for a headline that says, "I can get a two-year degree for free," said SOAR President Wendell Bailey.
"Straight out of high school, I don't see any reason why they would have to pay a dollar," agreed Lancaster. "We can't make a guarantee, but yeah. Under most circumstances."
Bailey asserted that the most pressing community need the campus can meet is facilitated higher-level professional programs, such as nursing or truck technicians. 
Lancaster and Vice Chancellor Michael Orf gave details on nursing programs offered in West Plains, including LPN to RN bridge programs in which interest far out paces available seats. In a recent cohort, there were 80 applications for 20 seats, Orf reported. 
"Yes, when [local students] stay in the region, they are a cog in the machine of economic development," Lancaster concluded. 
"It's all about opportunities," Superintendent of Willow Springs Schools Dr. Marty Spence agreed, "the more we can offer to the students, the better."
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