College needs input to keep moving forward

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Give the people of the McCook area credit. They treasure McCook Community College, and they will do everything possible to help the college and the area be a leader in education.

That spirit of pride and support was demonstrated again Wednesday, when a crowd of 51 business people, community leaders and college officials gathered at the McCook College Student Union. While vocal in their praise of the advances the Mid-Plains College Area has made under the leadership of Dr. Michael Chipps, members of the group were not content for the college to rest on past accomplishments.

They were looking ahead, trying to envision what changes the college will need to make to be of service to the people of this region.

It's part of a three-year process aimed at sharpening the college's focus for the future, with particular emphasis on the 2006-2009 period.

Called the President's Advisory Council, the roundtable participants offered a number of suggestions, including close working relationships with business and industry to address specific staffing and training needs; additional close-to-home certification classes for public school teachers; expansion of course offerings for the nursing field; increased marketing of the college; fuller use of the college's extensive scholarship opportunities; and development of new programs, including targeted training in welding, ethanol, agriculture, computer applications and business specialties.

One of the challenges the college is facing is the decrease in population in the Mid-Plains Area. From a census count of 103,000 in 1990, the 18 counties in the college area dropped to 93,000 in 2000, and slipped even further -- to an estimated 90,000 -- in 2005.

Still, the Mid-Plains Area is doing a better job, on a percentage basis, of serving the area's educational needs than are colleges in other locations. With 17,000 people taking classes in some form (credit or non-credit) in the past year, Mid-Plains reached 16 percent of the area's population. That's as much as four times higher than the educational use rate in other areas, Dr. Chipps said.

One of the reasons for the college's popularity is the affordable cost. Per credit hour cost in the Mid-Plains Area, including fees, is $60 to $70. That is less than half the cost for college courses in most locations, Dr. Chipps pointed out.

Yes, this area is fortunate to be served by the colleges of the Mid-Plains Area, including the McCook and North Platte campuses and the attendance centers in Imperial, Valentine, Broken Bow and Ogallala. But we cannot be content with past successes. Citizen support -- and suggestions -- are essential to keep the college moving forward.

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