Higher Education: Staying Ahead of Community Needs

Program offerings represent but one type of initiative taking shape in the local higher education landscape. Other undertakings include major capital investments on campuses.

Such projects and efforts are further bridging the gaps between educational institutions and the communities that surround them.

Filling a Gap

Mental health. Education. Health Care. These topics are increasingly on the radar in the metro. Higher education institutions are accounting for them in a big way as these needs are shaping and representing new and evolving curricula.

Dr. Mary Hawkins, president of Bellevue University, highlighted the university’s launch of the Master of Social Work and Master of Arts in Teaching degrees.

“These programs will help meet two shortages in the workforce – mental health practitioners and teachers,” Hawkins said, noting both will be offered in hybrid online and on-campus formats.

Its undergraduate teacher education program got a boost with elementary, special education, and ESL certification options and the build-out of two lab classrooms to prepare teachers to leverage technology and bridge the miles.

“We learned that there are gaps in how well schools can leverage digital capacity to reach more learners during the pandemic,” Hawkins stated. “BU is bringing its experience in digital/online learning to the forefront to make this a priority for teacher training.”

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Additional launches include its Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in Financial Planning, Master of Science in Supply Chain, and Bachelor of Science in Computer Science.

Last month, UNO was awarded an $11 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, which marks the establishment of the groundbreaking Center for Cardiovascular Research in Biomechanics to spur innovative materials and devices to address the health scourge posed by vascular disease.

“The establishment of the CRiB means more opportunities to recruit students from all around the world who want to be a part of this groundbreaking research,” said Chancellor Joanne Li.

College of Saint Mary Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs, Kimberly Allen, noted that the college may soon add health care administration and behavioral and mental health to its programming.

“When the community asks for assistance, that’s where we’ll focus our attention,” she stated. “Our next endeavor is to work with an outside company to understand market research and determine what new programs are a must at CSM.”

In the trades department, Metropolitan Community College added a powersports and outdoor equipment repair program. Students will learn how to maintain and repair jet skis, snowmobiles, riding lawnmowers, and landscaping and construction equipment.

Rendering of the new field house at Bellevue University. (Courtesy of Bellevue University)
Rendering of the new field house at Bellevue University. (Courtesy of Bellevue University)

Building on Existing Programs

For MCC, Vice President of Academic Affairs Tom McDonnell emphasized enhancements to existing opportunities.

“In the automotive area, for example, we have a new partner program called Mopar CAP designed to train certified auto technicians to work on the Chrysler family of automotive brands,” he said. “This latest partnership is in addition to our TTEN program, which trains future Toyota and Lexus technicians.”

In construction, McDonnell said MCC is doing more with building information modeling.

“We are finding this is an in-demand skill that even current architecture firm employees are interested in coming back to school to learn,” he explained.

The National Security Administration recently recertified MCC’s cybersecurity program as a Center for Academic Excellence. It was the first two-year college program of its kind to earn the designation in 2018.

“The MCC program has forged multiple transfer agreements with four-year institutions,” he said.

Emphasis on Upskilling

An increasing segment of higher education is upskilling.

At Creighton University alone new upskill certificate programs include Behavioral Finance, Healthcare Collaboration, Conflict Management, and other certificate programs.

Creighton University Provost Mardell Wilson added that the new College of Professional and Continuing Education will soon offer courses in health informatics, health law, practice management, leadership training and tailored to busy professionals.

“These courses draw upon Creighton’s business and health sciences expertise to equip learners with in-demand skills for career advancement,” she said.

UNO also launched a series of fully online, 100% virtual, and tailored micro-credentials to meet the needs of upskilling the workforce and career advancement.

“Our offerings are authored by UNO faculty and staff and/or industry leaders, are each 15 hours in length, and are often stackable,” Li added.

On a different front, through its corporate partnerships, Bellevue University creates modules for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and leadership, tech certificates, and industry certifications in the supply chain, project management and other degrees.

Capital Investments

Hawkins indicated two projects on the Bellevue University campus will change the makeup of the campus.

“We are remodeling the northeast corner of Harvell and Fort Crook,” she explained. “Our project really serves as a catalyst and a foreshadowing of what the city of Bellevue has planned for Fort Crook.

In addition to the new field house, planning is underway for the conversion of the old gym and Durham Administration Building. The university has a partnership with the city to build soccer and softball fields at Haworth Park.

McDonnell said MCC is engaged in long-range planning for a new, 150-acre Sarpy County campus site near highways 370 and 50.

Rendering of Creighton University’s new Jesuit Residence. (Courtesy of Creighton University)
Rendering of Creighton University’s new Jesuit Residence. (Courtesy of Creighton University)

“Possible programs to be located at the site could include programs in the health care, transportation, and public service sectors,” he said.

In North Downtown Omaha, Creighton University President Rev. Daniel Hendrickson said the development of softball and baseball complexes will enhance recreation and wellness programs.

“In addition, we are creating new green spaces and safety features for pedestrians and bicyclists that are traveling through campus,” he said.

Another notable addition, the Creighton campus will open a new Jesuit residence this spring.

Li referred to UNO’s $35 million investment in a renovated/updated Durham Science Center to house classrooms, labs, and the Mallory Kountze Planetarium, as well as the STEM TRAIL Center’s new $5 million home in Roskens Hall (slated to open later this spring).

UNO’s Durham Science Center renovation. (Courtesy of UNO)
UNO’s Durham Science Center renovation. (Courtesy of UNO)

She noted how it will support formal and informal STEM education innovations with ready-built infrastructure to enhance research impacts and team- and community partnership-building.

Additional investment includes its National Counterterrorism Innovation, Technology, and Education Center of Excellence at Scott Technology Center; Research, Engagement, and Community Hub in Health and Kinesiology; and a proposed more than 119,000-square-foot addition and nearly 72,000-square-foot renovation of The Peter Kiewit Institute to meet needs presented significant enrollment growth and other challenges.

Financial assistance

To ensure the next generation has access to higher education, financial assistance programs are needed.

McDonnell said MCC has been instrumental in securing state-appropriated American Rescue Plan Act funds to offer tuition-free education to current high school students.

Following high school graduation, several local universities have assistance programs for students at different income levels and interest areas.

Li highlighted UNO’s Nebraska Promise free tuition program (for students who meet specific criteria), as well as its Omaha Urban Rate Tuition program to enhance access for out-of-state students.

New nursing students at CSM can receive $10,000 annually, courtesy of The Harper Family Foundation.

“With the support of the [National Science Foundation], CSM offers a unique and competitive program for academically talented students who excel in STEM,” Allen said.

“Our prestigious Marie Curie Scholarship provides $20,000 annually for four years. In addition to having access to substantial financial resources and facilities, scholarship recipients also receive tutoring, undergraduate research opportunities, and top programs like the National Institute of Health and NASA research fellowships.”

In June, CSM was awarded funding from NASA for scholarships for college transfer students who excel in STEM – to the tune of $20,000 annually for tuition for two years.