Tarkio College works to reopen as two-year institution

Tarkio College in Tarkio, Missouri, is considering reopening its doors if it receives permission from the Missouri Department of Higher Education. The college was closed in the '90s after running into financial difficulities.

SHENANDOAH – An application for Tarkio College to reopen as a two-year institute of higher learning has been submitted to the Missouri Department of Higher Education.

Tarkio College had operated in northwest Missouri – about a 30-minute drive from Hamburg or Shenandoah – in Tarkio, Missouri, from 1883 to 1992, according to the city.

Robert Hughes, a graduate and now president of the college, said the reopening was made possible after the college property was donated to its alumni association. Tarkio College currently operates as a center for professional continuing education.

“Twenty-nine acres of the campus itself and 11 buildings were gifted to the Tarkio College Alumni Association by Heartland Educational Institute that inherited the land when the college ceased operating in 1992,” Hughes said.

The college closed, according to a 1991 New York Times story, after earning the distinction of holding the highest loan default rate in the United States. The liberal arts college ended up owing more than $22 million to the federal government after dealing loans and grants to ineligible students.

Two pieces of property – the gymnasium and Woodruff Apartments – were not included in the gift to the alumni association, Hughes said. The gym was converted to a community fitness center and the apartments were in too much disrepair.

“The Department of Higher Education will look at our assets when evaluating whether we are approved,” he said, adding that having debt-free building provides the college with stability.

The initial goals of the alumni association, while waiting for state’s approval, are to renovate Rankin Hall and the Thompson Learning Library. Rankin Hall will be used as an administration building and for celebratory functions. The three-storied Thompson Learning Library will be used for classes.

Hughes said a fundraising firm out of Kansas City has been hired to help raise funds for various improvements that need to be made to the campus.

If granted approval, Hughes said the college would like to begin offering classes as soon as possible. With a four-month application process, that could be as early as January 2017.

“We are excited,” Hughes said.

Until the college is approved by the state, Hughes said it shouldn’t market itself. However, he said extensive studies have been done to see what was needed in the region. Fifty school districts within 60 miles of Tarkio were asked what their students needed for higher learning.

“We were pleased with the responses, and they were all very helpful,” Hughes said. “We even formed an advisory committee consisting of area high school guidance counselors that will continue to help us throughout this process.”

What is needed, said Hughes, is a two-year general studies program that allows students to obtain an associates degree and easily transfer to a four-year college if that is what the student desires. This allows the student to remain at home as a way to save money as well as a way for nontraditional students to obtain further education.

The college has “no desire” to compete with Iowa Western Community College or Northwest Missouri State University, Hughes said. The goal instead is to offer programs not found in other area colleges, such as agriculture management, community emergency preparedness, health care administration and public administration.

Eventually, Tarkio College may even add programs like welding and windmill technology.

“Our goal is to start small and grow slow,” Hughes said.

The college would like to have an open admissions program where students are allowed to try out college to see if it’s a good fit. Such an open policy is typical of junior college and community colleges.

“Studies have shown that there are good students in college who weren’t good students in high school,” Hughes said. “I was one of them. I was average at best, but I did very well in college and graduate school.”

This weekend, the college planned to hold a campus cleanup. The college is also planning a homecoming celebration June 24 through June 26, where the alumni association will celebrate its ownership of the campus.

Missouri has only one other independent two-year school, Wentworth Military Academy and College, according to the state Department of Higher Education. Missouri has 24 independent four-year colleges and universities, as well as 14 public two-year colleges and 13 public four-year colleges.

An effort to reopen the institution as a two-year, degree-granting college has been underway since shortly after the college was shuttered, with costs consistently providing a barrier to the efforts.

The St. Joseph News-Press reported in 2014 that Heartland Educational Institute – a local nonprofit group – took control of buildings after the college went bankrupt with plans for either a technical school or a women’s prison. The Tarkio Academy, a school for juvenile delinquents, was operated from 1995 to 2004 on the campus.

After the youth home closed, a Florida oil executive had planned to transform the Tarkio College campus into a science-focused private college, according to an Associated Press report in 2006. The Shenandoah Valley News said the college reopened in 2012 as a continued educating institution that does not provide academic credits.

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