WHAT OTHERS SAY: Innovation campuses grab the national spotlight

Monday, July 29, 2013 | 11:11 a.m. CDT; updated 8:06 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 29, 2013

For a program that currently serves just 17 students, the Missouri Innovation Campus in Lee’s Summit received a good deal of attention last week. At a visit to the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, President Barack Obama called it “exactly the kind of innovation we need when it comes to college costs.”

The program achieves several important goals. By enabling high school students to earn an associate degree from a community college, it helps them graduate from college earlier and with less debt than more traditional education routes. By combining classwork with internships in information technology and engineering firms, it helps students become job-ready and enables employers to groom future workers.

The Missouri Innovation Campus is clearly an idea whose time has arrived. The challenge is to broaden its scope.

Fortunately, that is happening. The Lee’s Summit program will expand to serve 32 students beginning this fall, and nine additional high school-college-business partnerships are underway throughout Missouri.

While Missouri’s innovation campuses are being heralded as something, well, innovative, they pull together elements that have been at play in higher education for a long time.

Many high schools and colleges offer students a chance to earn dual credits. Apprenticeships like student teaching are common in college curriculums.

The Missouri Innovation Campuses are unusual in that they provide opportunities for students to get started on college credits and internship experiences while still in high school. With that, they are definitely on to something.

Educators are seeking ways to make high school more relevant for today’s impatient, tech-savvy students, and employers are pleading for pathways that will lead brainy students into their labs and offices. For cash-concerned families, the early start offers the possibility that a student could earn a college degree only two years after high school graduation.

The innovation programs require students who are bright, motivated and have a solid academic background.

“Certainly this program is not for every student,” said Chuck Ambrose, president of the University of Central Missouri, which is where students from the Innovation Campus in Lee’s Summit move on to college. “They have to have an idea of what they want to do.”

But Ambrose and others have good ideas for widening the pool of students who might be candidates for innovation programs. One is working with middle schools to create classes that are specific to in-demand career paths. Another possibility is a charter school in Kansas City’s urban core to prepare students for the rigorous demands of college courses and internships.

The Lumina Foundation, which works to increase America’s success in higher education, has recognized Missouri’s Innovation Campus program and will participate in a conference in Kansas City this fall to talk about ways to expand its scale and replicate it elsewhere.

The pioneering Innovation Campus in Lee’s Summit shows what can happen when leaders from business, education and government abandon old ideas and embark on something smart and new. Its potential is inspiring.

Copyright The Kansas City Star. Reprinted with permission.

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