Dispute settled over degree offerings from Missouri State and the University of Missouri

ST. LOUIS • A recent task force report tells all of Missouri’s public universities and community colleges to stay in their own lanes when it comes to what degrees each type of institution can grant — unless they have a very good reason to stray.

The task force, comprising 16 Missouri higher education leaders, was asked to address the issue by Missouri House leaders after a dispute between the University of Missouri System and the up-and-coming Missouri State University.

Leaders from Missouri State were hoping to change a statute that controls which doctoral programs the Springfield university can grant and prohibits it from offering professional degrees such as law and medical.

The law was created in 2005 when the school went through a name change from Southwest Missouri State University to Missouri State University. In addition to stipulations on degrees, the statute also limits the school from seeking the same research and land grant designation as the University of Missouri.

Bills were introduced in the Missouri House and Senate during last session that would change that particular statute. Both bills died in committee.

“The consensus at the end of the legislative session is that this is a matter better addressed by the higher education community,” Zora Mulligan, state Department of Higher Education commissioner, told the Post-Dispatch.

The task force’s report seeks to provide closure on the issue.

The report largely states that every institution stays in their own lane, meaning research and professional degrees are exclusively the role of the four University of Missouri schools — clarity for which the university system leaders are grateful.

It also states that Missouri’s 12 community colleges should stick to granting associate degrees and certificates — a directive given amid increased interest among some schools to also offer bachelor’s degrees.

“Part of the conversation of the process was to design a process that applied equally to all institutions regardless of institutional type,” Mulligan told the Post-Dispatch.

There is a narrow exception.

If a school sees an opportunity to add a program that doesn’t fit its typical mission, the college or university can ask the Coordinating Board of Higher Education. There must be proof that there’s a “local or regional workforce need,” and that there are no collaboration opportunities with other schools, according to the report.

The board will address a maximum of eight proposals during the first two years before reevaluating the new process. But the proposals cannot be fully enacted until the Legislature alters a few statutes .

“I was really impressed by the good faith that everybody brought to the table,” Mulligan said. “It was a very challenging conversation. Mission is a very core component of an institution’s identity. Having that talk took real diplomacy.”

Leaders from the University of Missouri System and Missouri State have both said in statements to the Post-Dispatch that they’re pleased with the outcome.

“The UM System agrees with the report’s recommendation that new academic programs that fall outside a public institution’s typical set of offerings should be reviewed in a more comprehensive manner to promote collaboration and avoid unnecessary duplication that the state and taxpayers cannot afford,” interim system president Michael Middleton said in a statement.

“The UM System campuses already offer collaborative degrees with several other universities, and we look forward to continued partnerships with four-year institutions to provide engineering, graduate and professional programs in an efficient manner in fulfillment of our teaching and research mission.”