Two of Springfield’s longest-serving higher education leaders recently passed significant milestones.
Hal Higdon, chancellor of Ozarks Technical Community College, marked 15 years at the helm. Clif Smart, president of Missouri State University, celebrated 10 years in charge.
Among the current crop of public college and university leaders in Missouri, Higdon has the longest tenure followed by Smart.
“The longevity is valuable but what they have done with the longevity has been much more important,” said Matt Morrow, president and CEO of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce.
“They have engaged since day one in their roles, not only to lead their institutions well but also to recognize the role they play in the community to help us become better than the sum of our parts.”
Morrow said as higher education leaders, Higdon and Smart play a critical role in preparing students for careers and contributing to the economic development of the region.
“What separates them is their prioritization of community,” he said. “They’ve ended up being ambassadors for more than just their schools.”
Higdon moved to Springfield in 2006, after getting the job, and is just the second leader in the history of OTC.
Smart has lived in Springfield for more than two decades and was general counsel at Missouri State before being named the 11th president of the university in 2011.
Both men are under contract at their respective jobs through June 30, 2026.
Higdon’s annual assessment is complete and Smart is in the midst of his review. Asked if he will ask for an extension, beyond 2026, Smart said not at this time.
“I’m good with where I am at for now,” he said. “We’ll see what the future brings.”
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Relationships built over time help through difficulties
The News-Leader asked Smart and Higdon to talk about their longevity, the challenges they have weathered, and how they work together.
Smart, who stepped into the role after a short-term president, said stability is critical for the institution. He noted relationships built over time — like his with Mayor Ken McClure, whom he’s known for 20 years — help in tough times.
“The good experiences we’ve had working on other projects means that you can work on things that you might be hesitant to work on but for the fact that you had a history of being successful, of people being honest with each other, of projects coming to fruition,” he said.
Smart said he and Higdon have worked together for the past 10 years. “There’s no other community college and university president who can say that in Missouri and there are probably not 10 that can say that in the whole country.”
He said they have collaborated regularly and continue to talk about ways to help each other, and the students they both serve, over time.
“There are going to be little bumps in the road and it lets you work through them without things blowing up,” Smart said. “We give each other grace when something happens or somebody says something that is taken out of context because you’ve got that long-term relationship.”
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Higdon said it takes time to build rapport with state leaders and decision-makes to work on long-term capital projects and improve funding. For example, he spent years working on equity funding through the Missouri Community College Association.
“It takes a long time to get to know your legislators, to get to know the governor and to know all the players and also to build that ability to work with your colleagues across the state,” he said. “Springfield has benefited from us not jumping around and going other places because we have built those relationships in Jefferson City.”
‘Springfield is unique in our collaboration’
Higdon said short-term leaders think short-term but sticking around for 15 years allows a leader to plan for the future.
“Clif and I have long-term contracts, we have stable boards and we have a community that is unique,” he said. “I will tell you, having lived in several communities, Springfield is unique in our collaboration. We are able to make decisions that won’t pay dividends today, won’t pay dividends in two years and may take five years, 10 years.”
Higdon said in his time at OTC, there have been three Missouri State presidents, four at Drury University, three at Evangel University, three superintendents of Springfield Public Schools, and four mayors.
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“Those of us who’ve been around for a while carry that history and have that institutional knowledge,” he said.
According to Higdon’s current contract, his base pay is $290,773 plus $1,010 per month for a vehicle allowance and $23,230 a year paid to a retirement savings plan.
Smart’s most recent contract amendment includes base pay of $334,981, although the current terms call for that to increase to at least $380,000 after July 1, 2022. He is paid a $40,000 annual housing allowance, which he donates back to the university.
His contract has a built-in retention payment of $50,000 a year that started accumulating in mid-2015 and will continue through June 30, 2022.
Brian Fogle, president of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, said both men have served on the chamber board and worked with numerous community groups.
He said their relationships with the Springfield-Greene County Health Department and hospital leaders made a difference during the pandemic.
“As the old saying goes, a crisis isn’t the time to make friends. You have got to have the friends in advance,” he said. “Fortunately, they had those relationships and how they worked during the pandemic was just exemplary … for their students but also for their staff and faculty and the community as well.”
Claudette Riley is the education reporter for the News-Leader. Email news tips to email@example.com.
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