East Central and St. Charles Community colleges may be vying for the attention of nearby Warren County in the future as local leaders discuss the possibility of bringing more educational opportunities there.
Currently, Warren County students in search of post-secondary education have a more than 40-minute drive to either East Central College (ECC) or St. Charles Community College (SCC).
That’s one of the many reasons why State Rep. Bryan Spencer, whose legislative district includes Wright City and Wentzville, said he’s working to bring a technical program to Warren County.
“We are at the step one, exploratory phase of this,” he said. “It’s too early to get our hopes up.”
Spencer plans to make the dream a reality by coordinating state funding to help build a campus somewhere in Warren County that would be a mostly independent branch of St. Charles Community College.
However, a partnership with SCC brings with it a speed bump.
Currently, Warren County resides in the ECC service area based in Franklin County. Spencer said in order to make a partnership with SCC a reality, Warren County would need to put redistricting up for a public vote.
East Central College President Dr. Jon Bauer believes ECC could fulfill Warren County’s needs, without the necessity of redistricting. He said while there haven’t been any discussions yet, ECC would be open to the possibility of a satellite campus in Warren County.
“I can certainly appreciate the interest in having opportunities for further education and training available — that’s what a community college is all about,” he said. “I’m looking forward to engaging with those in the area to talk about what else can be done and I’m hopeful we can serve their needs.”
Bauer said a satellite campus, not unlike the school’s current campus in Rolla, could be a possible solution. He said the service at that campus is based on the demand of the area and has been largely successful.
ECC’s Rolla campus offers a wide range of transfer, career-technical and health care programs designed to meet the needs of the city of Rolla and the surrounding community.
“As needs developed over time we established a presence there and served the area very well,” Bauer said. “I see this as a process that really starts with understanding what the county needs.”
That would include researching the demand of a community college and what type of population a campus would draw, Bauer said.
In the past, ECC has offered classes and noncredit technical training in Warrenton.
“That’s a conversation that’s certainly important and needs to be had,” Bauer said. “It’s early in this process and it’s too soon to see how this will take shape, but I think it’s time to engage with this and identify what the needs are.”
Spencer said even with the need for a public vote, partnering with SCC will make a Warren County community college more likely to become a reality and added it makes more sense geographically.
He said for students in the area it would be an opportunity to learn new skills at a more realistic proximity.
Warren County Commissioner Dan Hampson said having a local technical program would be an important way to bring new employees into fields where many skilled laborers are reaching retirement age.
“This is absolutely needed. The manufacturing base, especially with the baby boomers, all those who were tradespeople that are moving out and retiring — there’s no one to fill those jobs,” Hampson said.
Those needs, and the ECC’s focus on building Missouri’s workforce, are more reasons ECC might be a good fit for the county’s needs, Bauer said.
ECC would like to be part of the conversation before Warren County votes to move outside of the college’s district, he added.
“Anything we can do to expand opportunities for the region is important work to be done,” he said. “We’re ready and willing to do that and there’s an opportunity here. We’re ready for that dialogue.”