SIKESTON -- When Stacy Wrather graduated from New Madrid County Central High School in 2001, she lacked a math credit to take classes on the campus of Southeast Missouri State University.
Fortunately, for Wrather, the Sikeston Area Higher Education Center was an option. Wrather enrolled as a "restricted student," which meant she was able to complete the credit along with other basic courses. She was later admitted to the as a regular degree-seeking student but continued to take courses at the Sikeston center.
Wrather said she doesn't know if she would've pursued attending college had the higher education facility not been an option.
"I liked SAHEC because it wasn't as big (as a university). It probably was for the best, and I felt comfortable there," Wrather said.
Later this month the Sikeston facility now known as Southeast Missouri State University-Sikeston will mark its 10th anniversary with a celebration at the Sikeston Armory.
"I've watched the Center that offered general education transform into an extended campus of Southeast," said director Judy Buck, who will mark her 10th year with the facility in July.
When the campus first opened its doors in January 1998, about 175 students were enrolled, Buck said. Today about 750 students from 23 counties and 71 communities are enrolled at the Sikeston facility.
The Center opened in a temporary facility on South Kingshighway and in August 2000 moved to its current building located in the Sikeston Business, Education and Technology Park.
Steve Borgsmiller, who served as Sikeston city manager from 1992 until he took over his current position as Sikeston R-6 superintendent in 2000, said the Center's establishment was truly a community effort -- one between the educational community, the city, elected representatives and the regional university, to name a few.
"So many people were involved in this because the community had been trying for years and years to try to get some type of higher education center here," Borgsmiller said.
Borgsmiller said without then-state representative Joe Heckemeyer's initiative in getting the state and governor to earmark some funds to construct the building, the project might not have happened.
"The vision was that this was to be able to provide local access to higher education -- not that it wasn't available with Three Rivers (Community College) and Southeast (Missouri State University) being nearby -- but to make it even more available to the community," Borgsmiller said. Funding for the Center was a joint effort of the state legislature and residents of Sikeston.
"Obviously the citizens of Sikeston definitely saw the vision of Sikeston because they agreed to tax themselves to construct the facility and taxed themselves again to add on to it," Borgsmiller said. "That says volumes and volumes about the community's support of education."
When the Center opened, both Southeast Missouri State University and Three Rivers Community College offered courses at the Center, but in 2005, Southeast began offering all the courses at the Sikeston campus. "Of programs offered, it's possible for students to attend classes at the Center in combination with online classes and never have to go to the Cape Girardeau campus," Buck said.
Besides general studies courses, students today can earn a Bachelor of General Studies and Bachelor of Science in interdisciplinary studies; and a Bachelor of Science in human environmental studies, child development option. Also Southeast and Missouri Southern State University partnered to offer a dental hygiene associate's degree at the Sikeston campus. This fall students will be able to earn a bachelor's degree in criminal justice.
"That's beyond the vision," Borgsmiller said about bachelor's degrees being attainable at the Center.
Currently 17 scholarships are available for students attending the facility, and three endowed scholarships are expected to be added this year, Buck said. Wrather said, as a student, she's also witnessed some changes over the past six years. For example, when she first started attending, the 2004 expansion that included classrooms and a 3,000-square-foot child development lab wasn't there.
"Class-wise, it's pretty much the same as when I started, but there might be more projectors in the rooms now," Wrather said.
Over the years Wrather said she has shared classes with students ranging in age from 18 to 65.
"When I started in 2001, they weren't all about the young students because when you're 18, you usually want to go to the dorm. As time goes by, I think people are realizing it's a better thing to spend their first year at (a higher education facility like) SAHEC," Wrather said.
Wrather said she also liked the facility's close-knit environment, and the location was also convenient for the lifelong Matthews resident. Many of the students who attend the facility have worked diligently to earn their degrees, Buck said.
"It's been a wonderful experience, and the best part is working with and watching the students from the area be able to experience higher education," Buck said. "Education is something that cannot be taken from someone once it's earned."
Much has changed at the Center through the years, but one thing that hasn't changed is the community's need for the higher education facility. "They had a dream for a long time in Sikeston, and they made it come true," Buck said.
The facility provides so many things to so many parts of the community, Borgsmiller said. Besides offering higher education courses, the Center is also used by area industry to provide training for employees through the Bootheel Regional Training Group.
"It's beyond our wildest dreams," Borgsmiller said.
A celebration is planned for 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Jan. 31 at the Sikeston Armory. Individual tickets are $30, and sponsorships are $1,000. A sponsorship provides a reserved table for eight. Proceeds will benefit scholarships offered through the Sikeston campus. For more information, call (573) 472-3210.