Missouri Western State University sits near the bottom of the pecking order for state funding of public higher education.
A total of 10 of 13 four-year, public universities received more in annual state appropriations this year than Missouri Western, according to data from the Missouri Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development. On a per-student basis, Western does rank slightly higher.
This funding situation is well-known, but there’s another bit of information, one that gets less attention, that also affects Western’s future. Our hometown university might find itself toward the bottom in terms of funding, but it has one asset in greater abundance than many of its peer institutions in Missouri. With more than 700 acres on its main campus, Missouri Western has more available land than many other colleges in the state, except for the University of Missouri in Columbia and the University of Central Missouri.
In terms of real estate, Western’s main campus is larger than Missouri State, Northwest Missouri State, Truman State, UMKC and others. The trouble is coming up with any state money to develop this land, which makes this sort of like being the best swimmer in the Sahara Desert.
Western found one possible use with a proposed agreement to allow the city of St. Joseph to build a new fire station on university property, just south of the main campus on Mitchell Avenue. The agreement, which still needs approval from Western’s Board of Governors, would allow the city to lease land for 99 years for a new fire station.
In turn, the city would build a station for the university’s growing police department, using about $275,000 from a special allocation fund associated with Tax Increment Financing. Other than giving an impression that the city can always shake the cushions for some loose change when needed, this deal makes sense for both entities.
The city avoids an expensive, long-term lease and finds a suitable site to replace an outdated fire station. The university is able to answer a long-term law enforcement need without having to seek state funding for capital improvements, which sometimes takes years of pleading in Jefferson City.
The St. Joseph City Council made the right decision to approve this deal, and we would hope that Western’s board does the same.
More than that, this agreement should be viewed as an example of the kind of collaboration that allows Western to leverage one of its biggest strengths.
The university can’t be reckless, but it shouldn’t be shy about exploring partnerships and mixed-use developments that allow it to exploit an untapped asset that many of its rival institutions would envy.