America is filled with remorse. Remorse for the changing times, remorse for a bygone era, remorse for the loss of old-time values, slipping through our struggling fingers and replaced with a host of modern maladies like packed schedules and debt. In an age when we constantly bemoan the loss of historic integrity, but few do anything about it, any establishment which maintains the values of old, who upholds aging codes and ethics not because they’re easy, but because they work, should be lauded. Those ethics of yesterday are our hope for tomorrow.
The College of the Ozarks is one such institution. Founded on timeless beliefs over a century ago, the small school has managed to hold tight to those aging ethics in a climate of change. As the rest of the country debates the affordability of college in an increasingly educated, and competitive, age, College of the Ozarks has long dismissed the popular beliefs of newer systems in favor of their old, proven ways. Their grasp on the past has proved to be their strength, never their downfall.
In 1905, James Forsythe, a Presbyterian missionary, trekked into the Ozarks on mission. Though his original intention was to bring faith to the people of Southwest Missouri, Forsythe immediately recognized the most urgent and paramount need of locals: education. Quickly gathering evidence, he positioned himself before the Missouri Synod of the Presbyterian Church and presented his plan for a new kind of school in the under-served community. He described a place where young, hungry minds could come to receive a quality, Christian education; where rather than pay an unmanageable tuition, students could instead perform jobs and chores to help the school function.
It was not hard for Forsythe to convince the church of the region’s need for quality, affordable education, and in 1906 he opened the School of the Ozarks. In the charter granted to the school, Forsythe included its purpose, “providing Christian education for youth of both sexes, especially those found worthy but who are without sufficient means to procure training.” Those simple words would come to define the school for over a century.
For its first fifty years, the school operated as a high school for locals, providing a basic education where previously there was none. But in 1956, the school a model of success, the Board decided to add another two years of junior college, which was expanded to four years in 1964. Word of the unique college, where money was irrelevant but hard work was fundamental, spread quickly throughout the United States, attracting students from across the nation. In 1990 the college was officially renamed the College of the Ozarks.
The annual accolades for the College of the Ozarks are plentiful; it’s been named one of the best schools in the Midwest, one of the best-run colleges and has notable service-learning programs. But the awards cited most often are in regard to their financial policies: #1 Best Value College in the Midwest; #1 Students with the Least Debt in the Midwest. Student debt and the cost of college is one of the most hotly-debated political controversies in the country; opinions make or break presidential candidates, choices affect the entire career path of countless young adults. So how does the College of the Ozarks do it?
Simply. The College of the Ozarks maintains their devotion to their original intentions and charter, to provide education, “especially [to] those found worthy but who are without sufficient means to procure training.” As Forsythe proposed so many years ago, students of the college do not pay tuition but instead perform work-study and on-campus jobs to pay for their education. In 2013, the college performed a national first by barring entry for students who still insist on taking out student loans. Instead, the college added additional work opportunities so that every student of every financial background could graduate debt-free.
The College of the Ozarks demands simple, old-fashioned tenets of their students: hard work and financial responsibility. Such words may sound like the worry-worn grumblings of a stooped grandfather, but despite their age, those qualities remain as valuable today as they were in 1906. By preserving their motives and declining trendier approaches to education, the College of the Ozarks has proven itself to be a model for the future, even as it holds tight to its past.
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