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Student Success Creates Workforce for the Future

Daughter and mother look at reflection In mirror on graduation day

Every year, our Chamber takes a group of community and business leaders on what we call a Leadership Visit. Our group visits a similar community to learn best practices and explore innovative ideas that we can bring home to make Columbia a better place for everyone to live, learn, work, and play. On our first Leadership Visit trip in 2014 to Knoxville, Tennessee, one of our speakers said something that really stuck with me and the rest of our group: “The community with the best schools wins.”

Since that time, we have worked to strengthen our partnerships with local educational institutions to ensure that Columbia has the best schools to attract and retain families to this area. 

A number of exciting education initiatives have developed as a result of past Leadership Visit trips. The most notable has been Columbia Public Schools’ Early College program, inspired by a similar program that we learned about in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 2018. Early College is a partnership between CPS and Moberly Area Community College. Starting in their junior year, high school students can dual enroll as a student at both CPS and MACC. Participating students can finish high school while taking college credits and even graduate high school and receive an associate degree at the same time.

And the part that parents get most excited about? Students can use funds from the state’s A+ program to offset the cost of these credits and finish their associate degree debt-free. 

Over 150 students have graduated from the Early College program in the short time since it began and enrollment grows every year. Some graduates of the program move forward with the traditional four-year degree with two years of classes already finished; others go straight into the workforce or trade programs. Having so many college credits already completed expands opportunities for these students and prepares them for the workforce of tomorrow. 

On our trip to Tuscaloosa, Alabama in 2019, we learned about programs that inspired us to create a Workforce Development division at the Chamber. The division’s flagship program is Show Me Careers, a weeklong immersion program that exposes teachers, counselors, and administrators to a wide variety of careers that have high workforce needs right now. Current areas of focus include healthcare, construction, manufacturing, and other pathways to prosperity. Participants walk away with a better understanding of what is needed in these fields and how to integrate local businesses into their annual syllabus. 

Education is the top economic driver in Columbia, from our public and private schools to community college, and our traditional higher education institutions. If we want our community to thrive, we need to focus on helping these organizations and their students succeed. The more qualified students we can retain to meet our workforce needs, the better our economy and community will be now and in the future. 

Matt McCormick

Matt McCormick is the president and CEO of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce.

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