Missouri’s new commissioner of the Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development is getting settled in. Bennett Boggs has been on the job since April.

The commissioner sets the department’s workforce development and higher education priorities. Boggs also provides team members with the resources they need to execute initiatives and achieve the department’s goals. He oversees more than 250 workers.

His life’s work has been in the higher education space. Boggs was previously the deputy executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education and before that, he worked for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Boggs said the merging of higher education and workforce development into one state department is one aspect that attracted him to his job.

“Sixty-five percent of all new jobs opening are going to require some kind of credential beyond high school,” said Boggs. “So, that means all of us need to be thinking about what is it beyond high school we need to be prepared to do and that doesn’t mean that every student needs to go do the traditional four year on campus experience, although there’s plenty of space for that. But we need to be creating new pathways.”

He also touts the investment in higher education.

“A governor who has invested in post secondary education, like no other governor in the last 20 years here in Missouri. So there’s great support from this administration,” he said.

Boggs said he is excited about the department’s strategic plan, which includes a statewide goal of having 60% of Missouri adults with some kind of post-secondary degree or credential by 2030. Currently, that number sits at nearly 56%.

Missouri has 24 job centers. He talked about what he is impressed with so far as he travels across the state to job centers, colleges and universities.

“I’m impressed by the institutions and their leadership and their focus on their communities in their regions,” said Boggs. “They are well in meshed in terms of what the regions need. Where are they in economic development, community development? What are the challenges they face? The institutions are well aware of where are their enrollment pipelines? Who comes to their campuses? How can they serve them better?”

Boggs said some community colleges have found success helping students by focusing on transportation, childcare and some of their other needs.

He said Missouri has assets that might sometimes be taken for granted.

“We have two universities that are members of the AAU,” said Boggs. “Those are the elite national universities for research. And between University of Missouri- Columbia, and Washington University in St. Louis. And I’ve gotta tell you, other states would kill to have one, but Missouri has two. And what that means is those are focused research one, national universities that are able to draw in federal grants federal research, their economic engines that bring in a lot of high intellectual economy.”

What is his vision for Missouri higher education and workforce development?

“Our mission is to put Missourians on a path to learn, work and prosper. And I like that word prosper a lot because you don’t hear it every day. The other thing I like about it is Missourians can define for themselves, what does prosper mean for you? So is it professional prosperity? Is it personal prosperity? How do we get you on a pathway of where you want to go? And that’s for you to decide, but we’ll try to somewhere here in our post secondary system, and then our workforce system, is a pathway for you to take your career journey or your personal journey.”

Another part of his vision is education is pervasive.

“Really, for me, education ultimately is about increasing our horizons, broadening our horizons,” said Boggs. “Whether it be a professional horizon, whether it’s your personal horizon, the more that you’re involved and learn, the broader it gets for you. And that opens up more opportunities, and better understanding, better comprehension. The other angle, I would say, is my vision for this is just that we all understand an organizational culture of lifelong learning. And, you know, we’ve used that term for years in our profession, but really, we all live it now every day.”

He said these goals are not going to be met by sitting around in Jefferson City.

“They’re going to happen out across Missouri, at the job centers, on the college campuses, on the community college campuses. That’s where the work is going to get done. And so, part of my job is to get out and about, let’s talk about these things. Let’s see what’s needed and where are the barriers. What do we need to do? What do we need to focus on? The goals are not just pulled out of mid air. To reach these goals would put us as the forefront of the Midwest in terms of economic community development and attracting industries. So the thing is, when we talk about strong education states in the Midwest, we’ve got some big time neighbors between Iowa, Minnesota, Indiana, Michigan. Tennessee might not officially be considered Midwest, but they’re certainly a neighbor. They are strong post secondary state with a lot of innovative policies going on. Kansas is already strong in many of its ways of doing its work,” he said.

Boggs replaced Zora Mulligan, who resigned to become executive vice president of Missouri State University in Springfield.

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