Universities and community colleges could soon offer higher degrees for certain professions.
Higher education institutions in Missouri have certain restrictions on the level of degrees they can offer. A bill in the state legislature, Senate Bill 807, would change those guidelines.
“Our whole community is inhibited from a lot of really needed programs,” said Dr. Hal Higdon, chancellor at Ozarks Technical Community College (OTC).
“Right now, we have very severe limitations impairing our ability to offer any form of doctoral program,” said Dr. Ryan Debouf, the President’s chief of staff and assistant to the President for governmental relations at Missouri State University (MSU) in Springfield. “So, legislation like this is necessary to clear the legal hurdles that we would have to be able to do make a move like that.”
Senate Bill 807 provides a pathway for OTC to offer a bachelor’s degree, and for universities to offer a doctorate.
“This is basically the state of Missouri very wisely responding to a national change,” said Dr. Higdon. “If we don’t do it, this is basically going to hurt our state.”
Dr. Higdon says this is necessary because accreditation boards are making a push to increase the requirements for certain professions.
“Even though I am not really excited about this movement, of changing from associate’s to a bachelor because that’s going to increase cost, the only thing we can do with the state is to make sure that low-cost to high-quality training is available all the way through their senior year.”
At OTC one of the programs that would benefit from this legislation is its respiratory therapy program that could soon go from requiring an associate’s degree to a bachelor’s.
“Even to communicate with other professionals, we need to have higher education to better take care of our patients,” said Dr. Aaron Light, the director of the respiratory therapy program.
He says the two-year degree limits where respiratory therapists can treat.
“They are able to bill for our services in a hospital or acute care setting, but not in a nursing home, not in a skilled-nursing facility or things like that because we are not listed as a professional,” he said.
Dr. Light is also a delegate for Missouri with the American Association for Respiratory Care, which is pushing for the move.
He says about 18 students go through the program at OTC with a 100 percent job placement rate.
Other examples that could require a higher degree include occupational therapy and physical therapy assistants.
At MSU in Springfield, Dr. DeBouf says the occupational therapy program is headed in the same direction.
“We would need to be able to take our master’s program and turn it into a doctorate program. So, that they could continue to produce occupational therapists,” he said.
He says if the legislation passes, it would simply set the guidelines for the future.
“We are not planning right now to start a whole bunch of doctorate programs,” he said.
He says the new guidelines would allow professionals to enhance their skills and in turn improve their communities.
“When people enhance the education they received, they tend to enhance their income-earning ability,” he said. “And bringing in more professionals to the Springfield community, bringing in more high-income earners to the Springfield community benefits as all,”
Senate Bill 807 has passed the Senate and now it heads to the House.
Missourinet media partner KOLR-TV provided this story