Missouri Southern State University was founded in 1937 as Joplin Junior College. At its conception, Joplin Junior College had 114 students and only 9 faculty members. In 1964, residents of Jasper County, MO approved a $2.5 million bond issue to begin construction on a new campus, where the university is currently located. The new campus opened in the fall of 1967 with 2,399 students and 95 faculty members. In 1977, the school was renamed Missouri Southern State College and officially became a state-assisted four-year college and part of the state of Missouri's higher education system. In 2003, the Missouri General Assembly authorized the renaming of the college to Missouri Southern State University - Joplin; in 2005 the university dropped Joplin from its name.
In 1967, the campus was home to six buildings. The Taylor Performing Arts center was completed in 1973 and the Richard M. Webster Communications and Social Science Building opened in August 1992.
Missouri Southern recently finished construction on a health sciences building. The building, which had its groundbreaking on May 19, 2008, was built with money secured by MOHELA and distributed to MSSU by the state of Missouri. The Missouri General Assembly had entertained the addition of the Joplin Regional Center, owned by the Missouri Department of Mental Health, to Missouri Southern's campus in spring of 2009.
The school is about 30 blocks northeast of the worst of the devastation of the 2011 Joplin tornado which destroyed much of southern Joplin on May 22, 2011—one day after the school's graduation. Joplin High School had just completed its school graduation on the campus shortly before the tornado. The Leggett and Platt Athletic Center was used as an emergency shelter for victims. Billingsly Student Center was the headquarters for volunteer efforts run by Americorps St. Louis and was the coordination area for identifying victims and survivors. On May 29, 2011, Barack Obama, who was inspecting the damage, spoke at the Taylor Performing Arts Center.
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