Placeholder, Hillyard Technical Center

Hillyard Technical Center, 3434 Faraon St.

July serves as the lazy dog days of the education beat.

Just try to get in touch with top officials, or find much in the way of student activity, at the midpoint of summer vacation. But at two locations in St. Joseph, there’s an energy you don’t usually find this time of year.

July signals a changing of the guard at both Missouri Western State University and the Hillyard Technical Center.

Today, Matthew Wilson takes over as the new president of Missouri Western. Just a few blocks west, Metropolitan Community College prepares to do much more than hang a shingle at the Hillyard Center, which begins to transform into a site for MCC’s technical, general education and training programs.

Both developments carry great potential to move higher education and workforce training forward in St. Joseph. Wilson replaces Dr. Robert Vartabedian, who retired after a decade of leadership on the campus.

The incoming president, who served as a law professor and administrator at the University of Akron, brings a fresh perspective to the campus in St. Joseph. We hope he is able to emphasize academic excellence while also building on connections between the university and the business community and general population.

MCC operates five community college campuses in Kansas City, with Hillyard becoming part of its Maple Woods facility when classes begin in August. The St. Joseph School District will continue offering programs to high school students at Hillyard, but MCC will handle adult education and fill a void that existed in St. Joseph ever since Missouri Western transformed into a four-year institution in 1969.

MCC Chancellor Dr. Kimberly Beatty visited St. Joseph last week and spoke of her strong belief that MCC programs at Hillyard will provide affordable access to higher education for students who seek general education courses with the goal of transitioning to a four-year college or university.

But she also said MCC will meet the needs of employers with flexible, career-focused programs that train students for emerging jobs and help businesses, including manufacturers who struggle to fill open positions. MCC already provides customized training for employees at Tyson Foods.

“That’s the advantage of a community college,” Beatty said. “Get trained. Get educated. Have less debt.”

Rising tuition has caused some to question the value of higher education. Some are asking if the degree will generate the earnings power to pay off all that debt.

St. Joseph was always fortunate to have an affordable, accessible university in Missouri Western. Now, MCC’s growth provides another arrow in the quiver of providing both quality and practical education in St. Joseph.