University Center Project
For decades, Southwest Kansas has experienced a severe shortage of mid-level health care providers in a variety of areas including dental, nursing, physician assistants, physical therapists as well as a plethora of other specialists. Our region is also the only quadrant in the state without a four-year university. Shortage of qualified medical personnel, the lack of higher education, and the fact that we have an extremely low unemployment rate have all been factors contributing to this situation. Due to the lack of higher education opportunities in the area, our area youth have to leave our communities to pursue their degrees and future careers. In the majority of cases, these students never return to southwest Kansas, thus, leaving a greater shortage of qualified professionals. However, the growing immigrant population tends to stay in Southwest Kansas.
The lack of education has severely limited their opportunities in the health care industry and has stiffened job growth in this critical area. Over the last two years, there have been several discussions with Wichita State University (WSU), The University of Kansas (KU) and Fort Hays State University (FHSU) about meeting the higher education demands for this area. These conversations have also included the three community colleges and area technical schools, as well as the Board of Regents and state and federal representatives. The City of Dodge City has taken the lead on this project because they understand the significant need for all of Southwest Kansas and also have a facility available to house the programs and classes. In addition, FHSU and WSU have toured the City facility and have indicated a strong desire to participate. Our anticipated project outcome is that by “growing our own,” our existing health care providers will be able to expand their services and that several new healthcare businesses will emerge.
Update – August, 2018
Progress continues with the University Center. Meetings with the Kansas Health Institute, Kansas Health Foundation and Network Kansas have been very effective to begin coordination efforts to build community coalitions across the SW Kansas region. This collaboration will be vital to the long-term success of University Center. The consultant met with FHSU on their progress of developing the individual healthcare programs to be offered in our region. Final plans are anticipated September 1st. Scott Smith, the new CEO of Western Plains hospital was introduced to the University Center plan, and was very receptive and excited to help moving forward.
The consultant and Economic Development met with Christina Boyd, KU’s Western Kansas MSW-Social Work Program Director on their master’s social worker program, which is a blended form, that combines face-to-face and online learning for students on Saturdays. This program is a great example of how a student from Western Kansas can attend a local community college, graduate from FHSU with a bachelor’s degree and obtain their master’s degree from KU, while living and working in Western Kansas. In addition, Economic Development staff and the consultant are working with Christina and other universities to bring awareness of their programs to increase student base and business participation.
The consultant and the Economic Development staff met with DCCC to begin plans for a career fair which will include a focus on healthcare in February, 2019. This fair will have a strong emphasis to bring education and businesses together to build partnerships for workforce development.
In September, the consultant will be presenting to wKREDA, which is a coalition of 55 Western KS County Rural Economic Development organizations and resource partners to engage coalition members to build the community engagement needed to build and sustain higher education in Western KS. Network KS has agreed to partner with the Development Corporation to offset some of the cost associated with community coalition building across SW Kansas.
Applications for three grants are being applied for from the Community Foundation of Southwest Kansas and Kansas Health Foundation for continued funding with the planning process and coalition building, working through the regents and universities in meeting their needs, as well as establishing the structure of the University Center. The consultant met with Congress Marshall while he was in town to explain the University Project and the progress to date.
In addition, the consultant will be meeting with the CEO and other leaders with the NRHA-National Rural Health Association and Pioneer Health Network, which is consortium of nineteen hospitals in Western KS to provide updates on the University Center over the next few weeks.