I visited the main campus of University of Missouri yesterday. I taught a class on strategic communications at the Journalism School, then received the Missouri Medal at dinner. I was fortunate to sit next to the President of the University, Dr. Mun Choi. Here are highlights of the conversation.

  1. Keep Roles of University and Community College Distinct—It is the University that should train students who will go on to be professionals. The community college system should be utilized for upskilling and retraining those displaced by automation in mid-career. In the U.S., 35 percent of American high school students go on to college. In Korea, 80 percent go on to college but there are not enough job opportunities. The ‘appropriate’ number should be determined by the marketplace. To carry out university and community college distinction, university systems must act to create affordable access to education.
  2. Tuition Price Matters—The school attracts about 20 percent of its class from neighboring Illinois as the tuition cost is one-third less than for the state schools in Illinois. The school competes for students with the land grant schools in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Kansas.
  3. The University System—His university has four campuses, the flagship in Columbia, Rolla and in Kansas City and St. Louis. These will not be collapsed over time in favor of remote Zoom education.
  4. The Importance of Campus Life—So much of the passage from child to adult is the social experience of living in the dormitory (away from family), attending concerts and football games and being with peers. Distance learning due to Covid was an accommodation to the disease, not just a window into the future.
  5. Foreign Students—There are approximately 10 percent of students from abroad, especially from Asia and Latin America. They are valuable members of the student body. I met a particularly bright young woman from China yesterday at the Journalism school.
  6. The Importance of State Support—The State of Missouri accounts for approximately 10 percent of the budget for the school. The rest of the revenue comes from tuition and donations. More than half of the students are from Missouri. Many of the graduates remain in-state for their careers.
  7. Race—The school endured a very difficult period in 2015-16, in the wake of the racial unrest in Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis. Both the president and the chancellor of the school resigned. The president has spent many hours building bridges to diverse communities on campus, altered the curriculum, hired more diverse instructors, and brought the school back to its upward trajectory.
  8. Student Protest—The students are allowed to demonstrate but not to disrupt the normal operation of the school. The use of megaphones in the administration building is prohibited, as is destruction of physical property.
  9. The Necessity of Cross-Faculty Inquiry—We discussed the effort to combine the work of the agricultural school with the journalism school, so that future reporters have a deeper understanding of the farming profession. Students are encouraged to think through complex problems through course work outside of their major.
  10. Lead from the Front—I watched the president as he mixed easily with the students at the reception before dinner. He worked the room, seeking out faculty members to reconnect after a difficult year of lockdown. He is a politician in the best sense, listening to his constituents, providing energy and ideas. He inspires loyalty while pushing for excellence.

It was a day to remember. I had lunch with my fellow honorees, three top class journalists who have had distinguished careers. I met with Journalism School Dean David Kurpius to discuss the future of the PR business and the challenges to truth-telling in present-day journalism. I saw that our profession was accorded a level of respect at the school equivalent to that given to journalism. My trip demonstrated the continued work and evolution of what President Lincoln started in creating the land grant schools - education can be a gift to all, not just the wealthy of society.

Richard Edelman is CEO.