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2024 Education Outlook: Zora Mulligan

Executive Vice President, Missouri State University

Posted online

Mulligan’s 2024 Projection: A college education will continue to be one of the most important ways a person can grow personally and professionally, and colleges and universities nationwide will find it incumbent upon themselves to demonstrate that value.

Missouri State University had a 3.9% year-over-year increase in 2023 enrollment and record-breaking freshmen and graduate enrollment. How does the school plan to meet or exceed those benchmarks?
A lot of what drove success (in 2023) was a focus on affordability. We launched the MoState Access Award, which is a scholarship for students to attend MSU without paying tuition or fees. We also made a concerted effort to increase recruitment of local students. Missouri State has students on our campus from every county in the state – that’s an important part of who we are as a statewide institution – but we really focused on rebuilding relationships with local school counselors and families throughout the Ozarks. Moving forward, we’ve identified several important groups that we weren’t always making systematic outreach to, so thinking about how to improve those connections is part of our strategy.

How is the nationwide discussion of student loan forgiveness impacting the decisions of today’s college students?
Student loan forgiveness is a wild card in terms of how it impacts today’s students. I don’t know the extent to which a high school senior or a college freshman is thinking, “If I go into public service, then my loans will be forgiven in the distant future.” The rewards are pretty far from the behavior in those choices. I would say more relevantly, we focus on helping students in the shorter term focus on the economic impact of their choice of college. Affordability has been an enormous priority for our board and for our president, and I think that will continue to be the case in the future.

The Alliance for Health Care Education between CoxHealth, Ozarks Technical Community College, MSU and Springfield Public Schools was announced last year. What progress can we expect to see?
SPS is in the process of recruiting students who will start at OTC (in the) fall. MSU will begin offering classes at Cox North in fall 2025, so we’re working with the state Board of Nursing and the Higher Learning Commission to obtain the necessary approvals. Right now, there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work. We’re also setting up our branding identity so that when we talk about the alliance, people have a clearer picture of what opportunities it presents.

In what ways are Missouri institutions working to combat the nationwide teacher shortage?
One of the neatest things our College of Education has done in recent years is to think more creatively about how to broaden the group of people who are able to participate in teacher education programs. We’ve been a state and national leader in Pathways for Paraprofessionals, an apprenticeship program that allows paraprofessionals to get their teaching credentials. We operate in partnership with OTC and Crowder College to help local communities meet their teacher workforce needs. Some of what we do is meeting students where they are geographically and letting them know they have opportunities to get their associate degrees and their bachelor’s degrees locally. We’re thinking really hard about how to meet the workforce need for teachers throughout our state.

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