5 Mo. universities work to offer more ag classes

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- One university in the farming state of Missouri has expertise in cotton and another in dairy.

Forget it, though, if an agriculture student at one school wanted to learn about the other school's specialty. But that's about to change through an experiment, touted as a first of its kind, in which five of the state's public universities are working together to share some of the agriculture courses that make them unique.

Starting in fall 2014, some of these specialty classes will be offered through a combination of online instruction and two-way video feeds that allow instructors to communicate in real time with students at different campuses. Students might even make the occasional weekend trip to the campus teaching the course for some hands-on instruction, said Mike Aide, chairman of the Department of Agriculture at Southeast Missouri State University.

Aide's Cape Girardeau school is participating in the effort along with Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri State University in Springfield, the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg and Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville. Funding is coming from a $570,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

The schools have been meeting for more than a year to figure out the logistics and discuss their strengths. Southeast Missouri State is near the Bootheel region, the only part of the state where irrigated cotton and rice are grown. Aide said his campus will export classes on those subjects while taking advantage of other schools' courses in commodities trading and agriculture finance.

"So those are the kinds of things we are doing because none of us have the kind of faculty to be perfect," said Aide, whose school has seven agriculture faculty members. Collectively, he said, the consortium will have about 50 agriculture faculty members.

The schools initially will share five to 10 courses, with students paying the tuition rate charged by the institution in which they are enrolled.

He said the partner universities eventually plan to align their curriculums so students will be able to transfer seamlessly from one institution to another. The schools also are working together to make it easier for employers to recruit from all five institutions.

By drawing from a larger pool of students, the effort also will make it easier to offer classes that typically attract only a few students.

"It is a win-win for everybody," Aide said.