Missouri Higher Education and Workforce Development Commissioner Begins New Chapter (LISTEN)

After six years on the job, Missouri Higher Education and Workforce Development Commissioner Zora Mulligan is shifting gears. She is stepping down today to take on a new role — executive vice president of Missouri State University in Springfield, southwest Missouri.

Mulligan is one of the most senior commissioners in the State Department.

Zora Mulligan, Missouri Higher Education and Workforce Development Commissioner

“It has been a tremendous opportunity to lead the Department through this time of change and excellent leadership from Governor Parson. I think when people think about my time as commissioner, one of the things that will come to mind is just the record levels of investment in public higher education and workforce development that we have noticed. We are currently at the highest level of core funding for public higher education institutions in the past 20 years, which is huge. We are also at the start of transformational capital improvement projects on college campuses across the state that are going to make a huge difference both on campuses, but also in the areas these institutions serve,” Mulligan said.

She also pointed to the expansion of programs, such as the MO Excels grant program. It allows institutions to create or expand programs that lead to jobs in high-paying, high-demand occupations.

Mulligan said there was also a lot of investment in people.

“Whether it’s ensuring the A+ scholarship program maintains full funding, the first time in anyone’s recent memory that Access Missouri, our need-based financial aid program has been fully funded, up to Fast Track, which is basically the expansion of A+ to include adults who want to go back again to earn a degree in a program that leads to high-paying, high-demand occupations,” he said. she declared.

Mulligan reflects on his first day on the job to his last day as commissioner. She scored several goals when she took over and she’s proud of where they landed.

“It’s a job that’s not very precisely defined,” Mulligan said. “And so, I actually spent some time when I first took the job, thinking back to what previous Commissioners have done, learning a lot about the history of why the Council Higher Education Coordinating Council, which is the council I report to, was created, and just sort of looking at where the opportunities were for making improvements.

She said it’s a job that requires a lot of tough decisions.

“My team and I decided pretty early on that we were going to be ready to make some tough choices,” Mulligan said. “For example, we made some very tough choices to allow for the expansion of current technical education at Cape Girardeau recently. Similar tough choices to allow the state of Missouri to offer more professional doctoral degrees in Springfield. These are very, very tense questions within higher education. This willingness to take on the difficult choices was important for me and my team.

Another example is the financial situation faced by public colleges and universities in the state. She said they have advocated strongly for financial support from these institutions, as well as the programs and student financial aid programs that come with them.

Another difficult choice made early on, Mulligan says, was to think more broadly about what students need to succeed after high school.

“Historically, the focus has been on preparing for the baccalaureate. And that’s a really, really important part of all of workforce development. But we realize that there is also a group of students who need access to short-term training programs, and they need the financial support associated with these kinds of programs. So, you know, the willingness to take a step back and look more broadly at what success looks like after high school was another big goal,” she said. “I really think we’ve made significant progress and I’m really, really proud of the work the department has done. I am extremely grateful for the support of the General Assembly and Governor Parson, as they have been essential partners in all of this.

She said there are great options available for all types of learners.

“Whether it’s someone who’s really interested in learning through an apprenticeship program, or through a lab-oriented bachelor’s program, or someone who’s really interested in learning more about languages ​​in classics, there are great programs at colleges and universities across the state,” Mulligan said. “I think when people think, ‘Am I college material?’ being a narrow path type, when in reality these are great choices they should be encouraged to consider and plenty of financial resources available to help them on this journey. ”

What will Mulligan miss?

“People, people, people. I have been truly blessed to work with an amazing team, both within the department and across state government. I also really enjoyed the opportunity to serve in a statewide role and get to know people across the state. Institutions and communities across the state have very different needs and I really appreciated the opportunity to get to know all of these people and all of these interests,” she said.

The acting commissioner will be a longtime head of the department – ​​Leroy Wade, who served as deputy commissioner. Mulligan says the Higher Education Coordinating Council should hire her replacement in a few months.

To listen to Show Me Today’s interview with Mulligan, click below.

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