State Technical College of Missouri earns high rankings while providing hands-on technical programs.

State Technical College of Missouri, in Linn, currently boasts the highest graduation rate of any college in Missouri at 73% — surpassing both MU and Truman State. Pair that with a 99% job placement rate, and it’s no surprise that Forbes recently ranked State Tech the third best two-year trade school. Additionally, WalletHub recently ranked the college number one in the country based on types of job qualifications, debt acquired, and level of income 10 years after graduating.

“If you’re looking to come here and learn a skill, we’re going to be able to give you the education you need, and the best part is, you’re going to get a job,” says Brandon McElwain, director of marketing and communications at State Tech. “We like to say, ‘From the classroom to your career, we’re the employers’ choice.’” 

Linn Technical Junior College, then a part of the Osage County R-II School District, offered its first electronics program in 1961. In 1965 the college was awarded the status of an area vocational technical school by the Missouri State Board of Education, and then became Linn Technical College in 1968. The school became Linn State Technical College in 1995 and was still governed by the Osage County R-II School District until 1996, when it became Missouri’s first and only public institution devoted to technical education at the associate degree level. In 2014, the school’s name changed to State Technical College.

What has made the college so successful is its ongoing ability to adjust to changing times and add in-demand degree programs that answer the call of regional employers.

“There’s a need for specialized technicians in a variety of fields,” says McElwain. “When we started, that need was in electronics. Right now, we have a huge need for health care workers and utility workers. It’s always been whatever Missouri’s workforce needs have been. We’ve been here to train them.”

State Tech offers typical programs like business administration and accounting, sure, but they also have programs in industrial manufacturing, construction, agriculture, utility technology, automotive and transportation technologies, computer science, and health sciences. In fact, State Tech completed construction on a new health sciences building in 2018.

“We have [degree programs for] physical therapist assistant, dental assistant technology, practical nursing, X-ray technology, and we just added an associate degree to get your RN,” McElwain says. “These programs have been full with waiting lists ever since the building was built. We have more students who are interested than we have room for.”

This may account for the college’s continued growth in enrollment. During the 2019-2020 school year, 957 students were enrolled in A+ assistance, including Missouri’s A+ scholarship program, which allows students to graduate with zero debt. McElwain says 1,800 or so students are expected to enroll for fall 2020, making it the fourth consecutive year of record-breaking enrollment. Because hands-on education is at the very heart of each degree program, State Tech, like all other colleges, has had to think about how to continue operations for fall 2020 and beyond.

For fall 2020, State Tech will forgo closing on holidays like Columbus Day and have sessions straight through until Thanksgiving. There will also be three weeks of “snow days” built in, just in case a second wave of COVID-19 requires them to close. 

“We’ll continue to practice social distancing in the cafeteria and activity center,” McElwain assures. “We have a cohort model, which means the same 20 to 25 students are together the whole day, taking the same classes, so contact tracing will be pretty easy to figure out if we need it.” This decision was important to the school — they felt that online education just wouldn’t be able to offer the same educational experience as in-person classes.

“The best part about what we do is the hands-on education,” McElwain says. “In fact, we pride ourselves on making sure that the majority of the time, the students are in lab, they’re hands-on with the trade they’re looking for, and we have a low student-to-teacher ratio, so you’re not necessarily learning how to take apart a diesel engine in a 50-person lecture hall. You know your instructors by first name — they kind of become second parental figures. A lot of times, when these students graduate, they’ll come back and help recruit with their former instructors. They have a real close, personal bond with them that usually continues for their entire career.”

That close relationship with instructors is just what brought Ben Berhorst back to State Tech in 2011. Berhorst and his brother, Rodney, graduated from Linn State Technical College in 1999 with intentions of opening their own heating, ventilation, and air conditioning business in their hometown of Freeburg. They initially took positions with the companies where they interned, but within a year, the brothers had established enough clientele to become fully self-employed at their own business venture, Berhorst Heating & Cooling.

Ben Berhorst
Ben Berhorst, photo provided by State Technical College of Missouri.

“To build a personal relationship with and contribute to the success of hundreds of students over the years has been an incredible experience.”

— Ben Berhorst

“It was very rewarding to start a successful business from scratch, as well as provide a service that was valued by the community,” Berhorst says. “In 2011 it was announced that both of our previous instructors had decided to retire, and therefore there were instructor positions that needed to be filled. After 10 years of working in the field, I decided that maybe it was time for a change.” That’s when Berhorst came back to State Tech as the HVAC department chair and instructor.

“When I started that fall, I was quick to notice that the job was different than I had expected it to be,” he says. “As expected, the job does include hands-on instruction, including a lot of technical knowledge needed to be successful in the field. What was not anticipated was how involved instructors are with the success of their students and how rewarding it would be to see my graduates enter the workforce and be successful. To build a personal relationship with and contribute to the success of hundreds of students over the years has been an incredible experience.” Since coming back to State Tech, Berhorst has also served as the industrial electricity department chair since fall 2017.

Looking to the future, State Tech plans to maintain its relevance and reputation as the public institution that educates the skilled workers Missouri’s economy needs. State Tech President Dr. Shawn Strong says their approach to the future includes not fixing what isn’t broken.

President, Dr. Shawn Strong
President, Dr. Shawn Strong

“We do one thing, and we do it better than anyone: deliver on-campus, hands-on technical education.” 

Dr. Shawn Strong

“When I took the job as president four years ago, I was ready to make the kinds of changes that most of higher education has made: Online education, stackable credentials, and satellite campuses are trends that are still popular. After seeing our results firsthand, I quickly changed my mind. We do one thing, and we do it better than anyone: deliver on-campus, hands-on technical education,” Strong says.

Dr. Shawn Strong and Brandon McElwain survey the construction site of the future home of the Utility Technician Center on campus.

“Over the next decade, we will stay true to our mission and continue to grow the number of students and specialized technical programs,” he adds. “Internally, we talk about what it would take to go from 1,800 to 3,000 students. It might take five years or 15. I would never have predicted our growth a few short years ago, so it’s anyone’s guess. Regardless of when it happens, it will be fun to watch Linn grow with us and Central Missouri employers’ benefit from the additional workforce.”