Schools and Higher Learning

Columbia MO Schools and Higher Learning

The city’s families benefit from an unusually rich assortment of education options for their children, ranging from high-quality public schools to several independent private schools, some of them faith-based.

That wide range of choices continues all the way through higher education. The Columbia area is home not only to the state’s flagship university but to an excellent community college and multiple smaller colleges and universities.

Columbia Public Schools | (573) 214-3400

Columbia Public School District is the fifth largest district in the state, with an enrollment of 18,654 students. It includes 21 elementary schools, six middle schools, four high schools and the Columbia Area Career Center, as well as an early childhood program.

The district is accredited by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which has cited such educational advantages as:

  • Comprehensive curriculum and services at all grade levels, including preschool and adult.
  • Exceptional programs for at-risk students and students with disabilities.
  • Extensive depth and breadth in middle school and high school course offerings.
  • Award-winning career education programs designed for all students.
  • Successful community partnerships and volunteer programs.
  • Significant emphasis on staff development and school improvement efforts.

80 to 90 percent of Columbia students extend their education beyond high school. The average 2018 ACT composite score (21.3) exceeds state and national averages, with more than 1,200 students taking the exam. The graduation rate is above 90 percent.

Columbia Public Schools is nationally recognized as a District of Distinction by District Administration magazine. Its schools are nationally ranked by Newsweek magazine and by SchoolMatch with the “What Parents Want” award. Columbia Public Schools is also ranked as a top ten district for its technology use by the National School Boards Association and ranked in the top ten percent of school districts nationwide by

Over the past decade the school district has opened a new high school and four new elementary schools, added on to three existing elementary schools, and built additional gyms at two high schools. The school district also fully renovated Douglass High School in 2017. A new middle school in south Columbia is currently under construction and is set to open in 2020. An addition and renovation to Locust Street Expressive Arts Elementary School is also planned.

The district includes three “lottery” elementary schools that draw students from throughout the district whose families desire an education with a special emphasis. Benton Elementary specializes in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). Ridgeway Elementary is an independent guided education school. Locust Street Expressive Arts Elementary focuses on the arts. In 2020, Jefferson Middle School will transition to a Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math school and will have both a defined attendance area and a lottery option. ›

Additional Choices for Families

Christian Chapel Academy | (573) 874-2325

In fact, some of its students hail from India, Japan, China and other countries as well as Ashland, Boonville, Hallsville, Hartsburg, Fulton and other towns in Central Missouri.

“But the biggest thing we want our students to achieve is the ability to lead themselves”, Barringer said.

The school empowers students to be comfortable with who they are, to have high moral character, and to be a light unto the world. We give an award each month to the student in each class who best exemplifies these characteristics and traits.”

In 2018 CCA won the Columbia Tribune Readers Choice Award for best private school and was a finalist in the competition’s “best preschool” and “best daycare” categories.

Christian Fellowship School (573) 445-8565

Christian Fellowship School provides quality Christian education in a community of grace where students are known and loved. Established in 1981, CFS offers a college preparatory education to more than 290 students from four-year-old preschool through 12th grade.

CFS prides itself on being small enough to provide personal attention to every student, yet large enough to offer a variety of support services, learning experiences and extracurricular activities, including middle school and high school sports.

Students come from a variety of Christian backgrounds and denominations, and their families represent more than 35 different congregations in the Mid-Missouri area. CFS faculty and staff also have varied Christian backgrounds, but share a commitment to faith in Jesus Christ, as well as presenting a Biblical worldview in their subject areas and modeling Christian character.

CFS teachers are intentional in their efforts to help students experience academic success, spiritual growth and character development. To this end, the school’s instructional goals and extracurricular activities are designed to train students in three primary areas: knowledge, faith and character. In addition to the essential, core subject areas, students have classes in computer, visual arts and music with opportunities in middle school and high school to participate in choir, band (starting in fifth grade), speech and drama.

Dual-credit courses are offered in the high school, so students can earn both college and high school credits. Students also attend daily Bible classes and weekly chapel services.

CFS students are regularly recognized for their academic and athletic achievements. Over 90 percent of CFS graduates continue their education at four-year universities and colleges.

Columbia Independent School | (573) 777-9250

Columbia Independent School, a college preparatory school, provides a stimulating learning environment and a challenging curriculum that together prepare students to become creative, compassionate and insightful leaders.

CIS serves nearly 350 students in junior kindergarten through Grade 12. The classic liberal arts curriculum includes courses in the fine arts and modern languages, beginning as early as junior kindergarten and continuing through the upper school years.

“The school prepares students for the rigorous academic life in college and success in the global world. This preparation is achieved through small class sizes, a committed faculty, a safe and close-knit community built on diverse backgrounds, and lively and engaging classrooms, which exude the joy of living”, CIS said.

The school originated in 1996, when a group of 32 families, led by Justin Perry, came together to create a new educational opportunity in Columbia. In the fall of 1998 CIS opened its doors in Hickman Hall on the Stephens College campus to 55 students in grades six through nine, with ›
16 teachers. Then in 2002 CIS established a lower-school program in Sacred Heart Parish School’s former building. The school moved to its current building on North Stadium Boulevard in 2009, unifying all the grade levels under one roof.

The student body comes from a variety of socio-economic, religious, ethnic and racial backgrounds within the area, as well as internationally. Students of color comprise 26 percent of the CIS population.

The school’s Global Perspectives Program introduces students to international cultures through modern language, global issues, the arts and cultural exchanges. Off-campus study programs for upper-school students include the opportunity to study abroad at CIS’s sister school, Cheadle Hulme School in England. International service opportunities are also available to students entering their senior year through a partnership with be the Change Volunteers. Through this program CIS students have traveled to South Africa, India, Guatemala, Malawi, Peru and Papua New Guinea.

CIS’s Center for Inspiration, Innovation and Investigation engages all students’ natural curiosity with challenging hands-on projects focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

A full slate of extracurricular offerings, from athletics to character-development programs, rounds out the CIS experience.


Founded in 2011, Fr. Tolton Catholic High School in Columbia facilitates the growth of the whole student: spirit, heart, mind and body.

In its eighth year, Tolton Catholic serves 273 students of varying faith backgrounds from a 50-mile radius. Named for trailblazing priest Fr. Augustus Tolton, the school serves students in grades nine through 12. It boasts a student-to-faculty ratio of better than 12-to-1. Through smaller class sizes, a strong faith community and a challenging college-preparatory curriculum, Tolton actively prepares students to serve others and become leaders for the 21st century.

The school’s strong academic programs are supported by numerous Advanced Placement and dual-credit offerings, as well as a one-to-one technology program.

Founded upon the teachings of Jesus Christ, the school educates its students in Catholic theology, and they attend weekly Mass and annual faith retreats. Tolton’s “house system” promotes involvement, leadership and service for the greater good by blending students from all grades into smaller communities who work together with a focus on faith formation, team building, mentorship and service.

Tolton’s Trailblazers compete in 15 sports and claim multiple state championships. The school also offers numerous fine arts activities and clubs.

“As a college-preparatory school, we have high expectations for both behavior and academic performance for our students,” said Coordinator of Strategic Communications Joe Bradley.

“As a relatively young school, students who choose to attend Tolton Catholic truly have the chance to blaze their own trail,” Bradley said. “While it will take many more years to establish true traditions, students are actively involved in shaping the culture of our school for years to come. Our students have several opportunities to be the first to achieve an accomplishment here: The first to win a championship in a particular sport, the first to start a club or activity, the first to attend a certain college.”


The University of Missouri | (573) 882-2121

As well as being the city’s largest employer, the University of Missouri’s sprawling Columbia campus is the state’s largest institution of higher learning.

Affectionately known as “Mizzou” or “MU,” this flagship state university was founded in 1839. More than 175 years later, the university serves nearly 30,000 students from all over the world, and it is known as one of the country’s finest academic and research institutions.

Mizzou offers more than 300 degree programs — including more than 100 online options — through 19 colleges and schools. Mizzou students represent every Missouri county, all 50 states and 120 foreign countries.

The university has reduced expenses for students by lowering the cost of many housing and dining plans, and working with the University of Missouri System to reduce the cost of textbooks through innovative partnerships. In 2017 the university introduced the Missouri Land Grant program, which guarantees that Missouri students who are Pell-eligible and qualify for admission can come to Mizzou tuition free.

People across the state connect with Mizzou by participating in extension programs in every county, visiting MU Health Care specialists, competing in state competitions in MU facilities and cheering on the Missouri Tigers at athletic events. Mizzou’s NCAA Division I athletic program has 20 sports, with many teams ranked in the top 25 nationally.

The university’s performance in research, scholarship and teaching has been recognized by the Association of American Universities, which has invited the university to join its exclusive membership of only 60 public and private American universities.

The university’s nationally prominent faculty bring discoveries into the classroom and publish about 2,000 scholarly articles and 50 books annually. ›

In 2018 George P. Smith, a professor emeritus of biological sciences, was among a trio of researchers who won the 2018 Nobel Prize in chemistry for research that led to the production of new antibodies used to cure metastatic cancer and counteract autoimmune diseases, among other applications. Students at Mizzou learn from professors who are the best in their fields.

Students benefit from hands-on learning while contributing more than 440,000 hours of community service annually, participating in undergraduate research and taking advantage of Missouri’s largest study-abroad program.

Beyond educating the state’s future leaders, the University of Missouri is a vital economic engine for the region and state. In 2018, nationally recognized consulting firm Tripp Umbach found that Mizzou had a $3.9 billion impact on the state of Missouri. Additionally, MU accounts for about 67 percent of the research dollars flowing to Missouri public universities. Research generates new knowledge and new jobs.

MACC – Columbia | (573) 234-1067

MACC – Columbia (the Columbia campus of Moberly Area Community College and MACC’s five other nearby campuses are a key component of the educational system in the Columbia region. The area’s community college offers associate degrees in a variety of subjects, along with a full slate of terminal certificate programs. The school’s open-admissions approach and affordable tuition ensure that it is accessible to the widest range of people.

MACC is one of the most affordable ways to earn a college education yet offers unique co-enrollment programs that allow students to live on the campus of a four-year college or university while attending classes at both institutions. And MACC offers flexible learning opportunities ranging from traditional classroom settings to online and online synchronous instruction.

“This partnership is allowing MACC to offer programs in Columbia by utilizing the space at the Columbia Area Career Center. MACC assumed the Practical Nursing program in June 2018 and will graduate the first Columbia PN class in July 2019,” said Michelle Frey, the Dean of Health Sciences. “MACC is working with CACC to assume the Surgical Technology program too. MACC is currently offering the general education prerequisite courses for the Associate Degree in Surgical Technology and is working to obtain accreditation for the program. The plan is to begin offering the professional courses in January 2020.”

MACC recently rebranded itself as “The College for you.” And it has become just that with more than 5,200 students each semester. The recent launch of co-enrollment programs with the University of Missouri and Stephens College allows students to be co-enrolled with a four-year institution, live on campus and participate in student activities all while taking advantage of the tuition savings MACC has to offer.

MACC offers the following degree and certificate programs on the Columbia campus:

Transfer Degrees
  • Associate of Arts (AA)
  • Associate of Arts in Teaching (AAT)
  • Associate of Science (AS)
Health Science Programs
  • Occupational Therapy Assistant
  • Practical Nursing
  • Surgical Technology (coming January 2020)
Career and Technical Programs
Associate of Applied Science (AAS) Degrees:
  • Business Administration
  • Business Office Administration
  • Computer Information Technology-Networking
  • Computer Information Technology-Programming
  • Early Childhood Education
  • Mechatronics
Certificate Program:
  • Heavy Highway Construction

Many additional programs are available at MACC’s central campus in Moberly and at MACC’s other campuses in Hannibal, Kirksville, Mexico and Macon. The school’s certificate programs have a high job-placement rate, and its Associate of Arts and Associate of Science programs prepare students well for the completion of a bachelor’s degree at four-year universities.

Recent additions to the MACC course catalog include a certificate program in “mechatronics,” an applied-science program that prepares students to maintain and repair the kind of sophisticated mechanical equipment found in contemporary manufacturing facilities.

Central Methodist University
(660) 248-3391

Central Methodist University has provided high-quality education to Missouri and beyond since 1854. Its historic main campus in Fayette, a short half-hour drive from Columbia, is known for its exceptional programs in the fine and performing arts, health professions, science and teacher education. CMU programs are offered in Columbia at both the Parkade Center and the Forum Shopping Center, as well as many other locations across the state.

The university also offers a growing number of online classes and programs. Several graduate programs also are available, including two in Columbia – Clinical Counseling and Teacher Education. An Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program also is available in Columbia.

Ensuring that students have the highest level of technology at their fingertips, Central’s “Digital U” gives each undergraduate student at CMU’s main campus their own personal Apple iPad. Besides allowing instant access to fellow students, clubs, athletics, fine arts and campus activities, Digital U provides faster, smarter and more collaborative learning, the option of using printed textbooks or e-textbooks, and real-world experience with the technology that top employers use today.

Unveiled in the fall of 2018, Central fully renovated its historic Stedman Hall of Science, which houses top-of-the-line laboratories and classrooms, modernized equipment, and comfortable study and lounge areas. Just one example of the “technology at students’ fingertips” featured in Stedman Hall is an Anatomage Table – one of the most advanced pieces of visualization technology in medical science, used in many of the world’s leading medical schools and institutions. ›

Columbia College | (833) 844-3328

Columbia College has been helping students advance their lives through higher education for more than 165 years. As a private, nonprofit, coeducational liberal arts and sciences institution, the college takes pride in its small classes, experienced faculty and quality educational programs. It also has been a pioneer in providing education through more than 35 locations around the country and was a pioneer in online instruction.

Originally founded as Christian Female College, the school changed its name to Columbia College in 1970, when it transitioned from a two-year women’s college to a four-year coeducational institution. Though Columbia College has retained a covenant with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the college is a nonsectarian school welcoming students of all religious denominations.

Through its day and evening programs in Columbia, the Online Education program and its network of locations nationwide – 17 of them on military bases – the college serves more than 20,000 students annually.

In addition to offering associate degrees in ten fields and bachelor’s degrees in 58, the college offers master’s degrees in eight disciplines.

With continued growth at its campus in Columbia, additional student housing is a priority. To meet that need, the college broke ground on New Hall in March 2018 and will complete that in August 2019. The facility will serve as the new home for the Robert W. Plaster School of Business and also will serve as a residential setting for 150 students.

The Athletic Department has claimed the American Midwest Conference President’s cup in each of the past two seasons and 12 of the 18 programs played in their respective national tournaments in 2018. The volleyball, softball and eSports teams brought home runner-up finishes nationally.

The college also often appears on Military Times’ “Best for Vets: Colleges” list, including in 2019 edition. Approximately 30 percent of Columbia College students are service members, veterans or their dependents.

Stephens College | (573) 442-2211

Established in 1833, Stephens College has been educating women for the lives that await them for 185 years. As the second-oldest women’s college in the nation, Stephens offers career-focused programs in the liberal arts with an emphasis on the creative arts and the health sciences.

Stephens — touting the mission: Learn. Grow. Lead. — takes an experiential approach to education, ensuring that students have access to quality classroom instruction combined with external work experiences designed to complement their coursework. The student-faculty ratio is
just 10:1.

With a student population of 1,000, Stephens is divided into three schools: the School of Creative and Performing Arts, the School of Design and the School of Health Sciences. The College’s Theatre Arts program is ranked No. 3 in the nation, according to The Princeton Review, which also ranks Stephens as number 17 for “best quality of life” and “great campus experience.”

The Bachelor of Fine Arts in Fashion Design program is ranked No. 3 in the U.S. for long-term value by The Business of Fashion in London, which also ranks Stephens’ overall fashion program 22nd in the world.

The College offers innovative co-educational graduate programs, including a Master of Education in Counseling, a Master of Fine Arts in Television and Screenwriting, and a Master of Physician Assistant Studies, as well as continuing studies programs in Health Information Administration and Professional Conservatory Training.

For more than 90 years, the Children’s School at Stephens College has been offering student teachers experience in the classroom and serving the Columbia community with student-centered preschool and elementary programs. Each summer, the college’s Dream up Summer Camps give kids of all ages the opportunity to learn and explore their interests in areas like fashion, film, equestrian, and gaming and programming. Learn more at

Stephens is also home to the first varsity eSports team at an all-women’s college. The College is a proud National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Champions of Character Five-Star Institution. Stephen’s student-athletes compete in six NAIA sports.

The Stephens Solution College Affordability Plan, announced in fall 2018, simplifies tuition pricing and promotes affordability for all students who dream of a private college education.