This accelerated and dramatically less expensive path to college degrees and other credentials is, at long last, closing the equity gap that educators and policy leaders have been trying to eliminate for decades.
Cris Charbonneau and Bob Driehaus
Earlier this year, the team at KnowledgeWorks featured an article on the recently updated Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (also known as Perkins V). This policy update caught our attention, and we wanted to learn how this Act has and will benefit learning environments engaged in learner-centered work. The story below features a unique tale about KnowledgeWorks current President & CEO, Chuck Ambrose, who helped establish the Missouri Innovation Campus (MIC)—a learning environment that has utilized Perkins V funding since 2011. Through this story, you will learn about MIC’s evolution, the new opportunities Perkins V funding provides your learning environment, and how a local idea can become a national trend.
Putting high school students on the fast track to a college degree and a good job has become a priority for states and school districts in recent years, but Missouri Innovation Campus has been a trailblazer in this work since 2011.
In 2010, KnowledgeWorks current President & CEO, Chuck Ambrose, was the newly appointed President of the University of Central Missouri. During UCM’s homecoming that year, Ambrose met with Distinguished Alumnus Don Nissanka, who indicated he wanted to give something back to his alma mater for the impact his two UCM degrees had on his career and life.
At that homecoming dinner, the original construct for The Missouri Innovation Campus was laid out. Nissanka was working on launching a startup in the alternative energy sector and wanted to consider how the company could also be a learning space for young learners. Ambrose and Nissanka imagined making the production floor the classroom, managers and engineers part of the teaching faculty, and students as the potential paid employees as they learned the ropes. The cutting-edge technology on the production floor would be something students would otherwise never have access to in high school, community college, or even on a university campus.
Excited by the prospect of providing such a unique learning opportunity for young people, Ambrose took the lead in forming a collaboration among Lee’s Summit R-7 School District’s Summit Technology Academy, Metropolitan Community College-Longview Campus (MCC), and the University of Central Missouri, along with the Cerner Corporation, DST Systems, and St. Luke’s Health System.
Ensuring every single learner has a pathway to thrive is a monumental task, but thanks to the pooled resources of the MIC collaboration, the sum of that pool is greater than its parts.
Cris Charbonneau and Bob Driehaus
Collectively, this group designed a unique degree program called “Moving at the Speed of Business.” The program launched in summer 2012 with 17 learners enrolled. This initial cohort of students graduated from high school the same time they finished their MCC associate degrees. They then finished their UCM four-year degrees in two years and began their careers at an average starting salary of over $60,000.
Today, the collaboration has grown to include students from more than 20 high schools and 12 school districts. The program cuts the cost of college, reduces the time to earning a degree in half, eliminates the talent skills gap by providing paid internships in over 50 of Kansas City’s best companies, and significantly reduces student loan debt. The MIC collaboration provides competency-based education in the classroom, as well as through on-the-job training, giving students invaluable work experience and a hands-on opportunity to see whether they want to stay on the same career path or pivot.
This accelerated and dramatically less expensive path to college degrees and other credentials is, at long last, closing the equity gap that educators and policy leaders have been trying to eliminate for decades. Students who would not have had the resources to afford four years of college tuition are now being given the opportunity to forge their own success stories with the help of MIC. This model of collaboration between institutions of learning, business, and community can be adopted and adapted throughout the country.
The first question that likely comes to mind is: “How much does this cost?” However, the better question might be, “What resources do we already have access to that we aren’t taking advantage of?” Many ingredients go into the not-so-secret sauce of MIC’s inexpensive, fast, and valuable degree strategy, but they all come from a will to think outside the box.
Perkins V: A Boost for Educators and Learning Communities
Sometimes we simply don’t know what we don’t know, and if you’ve never heard of Perkins V federal grants, you may be surprised they’ve been available to schools throughout the country since 2006. And, they just became even more valuable—gradually raising the funds available from $1.2 billion to $1.32 billion in 2024.
Perkins V is shorthand for the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, a reinvigorated federal program designed to boost Career and Technical Education (CTE). CTE encompasses traditional vocational training, as well as careers in engineering, medicine, and other highly skilled professions.
While the federal career and technical education law has always emphasized career pathways and college-in-high-school opportunities, this updated version systemically embeds personalized learning into the course offerings, programs, and approaches of states, school districts, and community colleges.
The increased funding for Perkins V grants has sparked the imaginations of many leaders involved in the MIC collaboration. Shannan Booth, a Career Education Facilitator at Lee’s Summit, said the district uses Perkins V money for professional development at its Summit Technology Academy—“a shared campus of junior and senior students who come together for a half-day program as an extension of their home high school.”
But, the revised program and additional funding mean Lee’s Summit School District and school districts around the country can do even more, including buying industry-standard equipment, like laser cutters, for the comprehensive high school and upgrading the heating, cooling, and ventilation systems for shop classes.
“What’s exciting about the reauthorization [of Perkins V] is that we’re able to access more funds for our middle schools and get more seventh graders started on career pathways,” Booth said. “I see the Perkins reauthorization really helping us to grow our programs.”
Jeremy Bonnesen, Director and Principal of Summit Technology Academy in Lee’s Summit, wants to use Perkins V funds to more effectively keep girls with a talent for math and science interested in pursuing STEM careers.
Advisors who use Perkins funding for professional development meet middle school students and their parents to plan a course of study that will prepare them for STF capstone courses, which are a prerequisite for joining the MIC program.
Seminars, tours, and events at MIC are also offered to give middle school students a preview of what they can pursue. “It provides more opportunity for equity,” he said, “by keeping young girls in middle school excited about math before that switch gets turned off. We want to make sure whoever the person is, they have the pathway to thrive.”
Combining Funds Through Mutually Beneficial Negotiations
Ensuring every single learner has a pathway to thrive is a monumental task, but thanks to the pooled resources of the MIC collaboration, the sum of that pool is greater than its parts. High school students earn associate of applied science degrees, while they also earn high school diplomas, often finishing the AAS before high school graduation, Bonnesen said.
More than 30 Kansas City-area businesses, hungry for talented workers, pay a fee to MIC for interns, in addition to paying the students for their work. Students enter college ahead of the competition.
“This alignment allows for students to complete their bachelor’s degrees with three years of industry experience, at a lower cost than a traditional path,” Bonnesen said. “Students are working in paid internships at top companies while they live at home, which saves them a significant amount of room and board costs as well.”
Today, MIC students have access to a state-of-the-art learning facility that is the result of a unique partnership between the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District and UCM. Through a lease agreement, UCM accesses this facility at 60 percent of its total costs, while the school district only pays 40 percent. The MIC facility provides learning for more than 600 high school students and over 2,000 undergraduate and graduate students each day. The unique arrangement demanded unique architectural design that has since been recognized nationally with awards for intentionally designed learning spaces. This partnership has saved the Lee’s Summit community over $100 million for the cost of a fourth high school and saved UCM the cost of a new Lee’s Summit campus to meet learning needs in the Kansas City region.
Tapping into Even More Existing Funding
Once the leaders within the MIC collaborative got their wheels spinning, nothing seemed impossible. From taking advantage of Perkins V funding to negotiating lease agreements between two public institutions, they continue rewriting the book on what’s possible in public education.
MIC has also augmented its budget with Vocational Enhancement Grant money, a state fund for equipment and training. It requires a 50 percent local match for grants of less than $1,000 and a 25 percent match for higher grants.
Booth explained that these funds must be used for high school coursework, but they find a way to make it work for more. “These (high school) courses make up a great deal of the capstone courses for our students with an engineering and IT focus,” she said. “Many of them carry dual credit.”
Breaking Down the Silos of Education
The ideas that have come to fruition within the MIC program are unprecedented. With a mission to reduce the burden of rising student debt, expose young people to real-world learning experiences, and cultivate lifelong learners, there’s a reason Learning Pathway models are spreading coast-to-coast. And, there’s every reason for communities throughout the country to explore the possibility of developing their own accelerated pathways.
Fredericksburg, VA, which is preparing talent for the new Amazon HQ2 project, and Ashland, OR, which is redefining talent for the southern region of the state, are considering competency-based, seamless pathways, and P16 designs as models for their future.
MIC’s success has garnered the attention of Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, who has developed campaigns around #Talent4Tomorrow and #BestinMidwest—”initiatives that will fundamentally reset Missouri’s approach to meeting the state’s workforce needs.” The Missouri Innovation Campus is a future-focused model that helps remove both barriers and costs to enable students to make the best use of their passion, purpose, and dreams for their future.
We can prepare the next generation of learners to adapt and thrive in rapidly changing local, state, and national economies.
Cris Charbonneau and Bob Driehaus
Our team of futurists at KnowledgeWorks recently created a 10-year forecast that cites the likelihood that local economies will be increasingly disrupted by population shifts, economic transition, and climate change.
“Communities working to remake themselves will be able to tap into diversifying economic models and small-scale production networks. They will have the opportunity to engage both their traditional and diversifying workforces in new ways,” the report states.
We can prepare the next generation of learners to adapt and thrive in rapidly changing local, state, and national economies. Earning post-secondary credits in high school is a proven, high-impact approach to preparing students to succeed in a rapidly changing economy. The more communities embrace an accelerated P-16 model, the better their graduates will be equipped to succeed, including those who would otherwise have been left behind because of the steep costs of higher education.
In the learning community of Lee’s Summit, we took concrete, meaningful steps toward making post-secondary education affordable and attainable for students who would otherwise have had limited options. After reading MIC’s story, what new ideas do you believe are possible in your local community? What new pathways are you ready to create for student success that fit the needs of our current and future workforce?