You can’t blame Warren County leaders for wanting their own community college. They understand the critical role community colleges play in workforce development. Companies can’t find enough qualified, skilled workers to fuel growth. It’s the same story across the state.
The nearest community college for students in the north part of Warren County is roughly 40 miles away in either Franklin or St. Charles counties.
A state lawmaker has proposed a solution — build a community college in Warren County. State Rep. Bryan Spencer, whose legislative district includes Wright City and Wentzville, envisions a partnership with St. Charles Community College (SCC) to develop a branch campus in Warren County that would be trade-oriented.
Spencer acknowledges his plan is really just an idea and needs further refinement. He contends partnering with SCC makes more geographic sense.
It’s hard to argue that point. Warren County has a more natural affinity with St. Charles County. SCC is a straight shot down I-70 for students in the north part of the county.
The traffic issues on Highway 47 between Washington and Union are a real hassle for students driving to ECC.
But Spencer’s plan would also require overcoming some obstacles. For instance, Warren County is in the East Central College (ECC) service area based in Franklin County. That would have to be changed — likely through a public vote.
There is also the matter of funding. Who would foot the bill for building the college? The plan would be to start small, lease some space and as interest grows, develop a permanent campus.
Would SCC pick up the costs of building and operating a new satellite campus? Would the Warren County business community assume this responsibility?
It’s hard to imagine the state playing a significant role in developing another community college given recent budget cuts. Higher education felt the brunt of those cuts. More cuts are possible if state revenues don’t grow as anticipated. If Spencer can change that calculus, it would be a real feat.
Would Warren County taxpayers support higher levies to operate a community college? Are there enough students in the area to make a community college viable? If you built it, will they come?
A more practical solution for Spencer and his colleagues may involve an expanded collaboration with ECC. The college has a proven track record of providing the type of technical training the business community is seeking.
Over the years, it has partnered with dozens of businesses in its service area to deliver customized training, including some in the Warren County area. When feasible, that training is provided on site. It has proven successful at companies like Certainteed; it could work elsewhere.
ECC operates a vibrant satellite campus in Rolla. That collaboration was forged with the support of civic and school leaders in that community.
While the Rolla region is larger than Warrenton or Wright City, there is no reason that success couldn’t be replicated in Warren County — provided there was the same kind of support and interest.
Perhaps more importantly, ECC wants to be part of a solution. Warren County leaders shouldn’t ignore or discount that desire — it is a critical component in solving this problem.
The dialogue should begin there and if a solution can’t be found, Warren County should explore other opportunities.