12:00 AM

Partnership will open access to medical college for community college students

The Ohio State University, in partnership with Columbus State Community College, is leading a national pilot to guide more community college students to medical school and other health care professions.

The pilot, Pipeline to Medical Colleges Initiative, is the first step in an new national partnership between community colleges and four-year colleges and universities that expands access to the baccalaureate degree as well as to graduate and professional degrees. It improves access to education in the health-care field by creating a pipeline from community colleges to four-year colleges to medical schools.

The program was announced yesterday by Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee in his keynote address to annual meeting of the American Council on Education. In that address, he called on the nation's higher education professionals to be creative and develop new partnerships to bring more students to college.

"Through the new Pipeline to Medical College program, we are partnering with Columbus State Community College to enroll greater numbers of traditionally underrepresented students in medical school. Students of great promise and an interest in practicing general medicine are identified early. The initiative involves not just rigorous and easily transferrable coursework, but also early mentoring and extensive support for academic achievement."

Later this month, Ohio State and Columbus State officials will begin working out specific details of the pilot program, such as such as means of identifying students, costs, and scholarships and financial aid. The pipeline could begin as early as the next academic year, with identification of students at Columbus State to be the first participants in the program. Those students, who demonstrate early promise of completing the bachelor's degree and who have an interest in medicine and health care, would be supported with academic advising and access to many Ohio State services.

The pilot is in response to a request last year from The College Board, a not-for-profit membership association whose mission is to connect students to college success and opportunity. The organization asked institutions in Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Maryland to develop plans to move more students from community colleges to medical schools. In each of the states, there is a documented need for more doctors in the coming decade.

College Board President Gaston Caperton said, "This is a very important initiative. First, it will provide increased access to medical services for residents of rural and urban areas. Second, it will enable students to transfer between community colleges and some of our most prestigious public universities. These are exactly the kinds of partnership we will need to build if we are to provide greater access to college success for disadvantaged students."

The plan addresses three intractable societal problems: the demand for many more health-care professionals; the necessity of training more individuals from underrepresented groups for careers in medicine; and the need to find financially viable strategies to support students during the course of their undergraduate and medical training.

Recognizing that Ohio State could play an important role in leading the national effort to improve access to medical services for people in rural areas, President Gee volunteered Ohio State to be part of the initial pilot project. Since late last year, university administrators have worked with counterparts at Columbus State to hammer out a plan that moves community college students to Ohio State and more directly into medical schools. In addition to medicine, the initiative addresses education for a variety of medical fields such as nursing or respiratory therapy.

The plan is outlined in a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that describes program goals, parameters and commitments required from partners.

According to the American Association of Community Colleges, 59 percent of all new nurses and more than half of all healthcare workers nationwide are educated at community colleges.

"A number of Columbus State graduates have gone on to medical school and careers in medicine, and I'm confident this program will expand the pipeline to medical careers for many more students," said Columbus State Community College President Val Moeller. "We're bringing together a growing community college committed to access and a premier research university—and the result will be better opportunities for underserved populations and, ultimately, a stronger healthcare industry in America."

"This is the smart thing to do, and the right thing to do," Moeller added.

Ronald Williams, vice president of the College Board, says the Pipeline to Medical Colleges program addresses some of the barriers to putting students on the road from a community college to a medical degree. Community colleges are an important linkage because nearly half of all students attending those institutions are from underrepresented groups.

"There is a critical need to increase production of college graduates to address the nation's workforce needs," said Williams. "We need to train a new generation of leaders in essential professions such as engineering, medicine and technology. The whole STEM area is one of tremendous weakness is the country now. The idea is to try to help our four-year institutions and community colleges partner to solve some of our national workforce problems."