Investment in Programs: Local colleges focus on health care and tech

Changes in higher education are coming this fall as Nebraska colleges and universities introduce new programs heavily focused on health care and technology.

University of Nebraska at Omaha

With the 2022-2023 academic year, University of Nebraska at Omaha initiated new scholarships — in all fields of study for both undergraduates and graduates — for all international students, according to Phil He, senior vice chancellor for academic affairs. All newly admitted first-time and transfer students are automatically considered for these scholarships pending full-time enrollment.

“Much of the growth in international enrollments that we’re seeing so far has been in the STEM fields,” He said.

Renewals are automatic, contingent upon the students remaining in good academic standing and continuous full-time enrollment. The UNO International Academic Excellence Scholarship funds tuition costs for all admitted undergraduate students starting at approximately $3,000 per year and approximately $2,000 per year for graduate students.

“Higher education has become more of a necessity for people to be able to thrive, take care of their families, and solve the grand problems of the world,” He said. “We’re updating our programs with an eye toward a more individualized future of higher education, going beyond the four-year degree to include more minors and certificates. We are also launching 16 micro-credential programs this summer to provide shorter-form, non-credit offerings that enable learners to quickly develop skills and learn new competencies.”

As part of these new offerings, UNO is launching three stackable executive business certificate programs. Each one can be completed in less than one year, and credits completed in any of the three can later be applied toward a full executive master’s in business administration degree.

UNO is also expanding access to its Jump Start Scholarship to all graduating seniors and recent alumni. This scholarship provides one-time funding to launch a student’s graduate program experience whether they decide to pursue a graduate certificate for a quick resume booster or a full master’s degree program. Eligible students who are admitted to and enrolled in a graduate program must submit an application considered for the Jump Start Scholarship.

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Over the past year, UNO has hired 33 new full-time faculty, and this year its colleges revised 52 academic programs, the majority of which are in high-wage, high-skill, and high-demand areas of STEM, health care, education, and business and innovation.

Bellevue University

Bellevue University’s certificate programs each consist of two to five classes that focus on a particular skill set. 

“[Certificate programs] are growing in popularity, not only at Bellevue but across the nation, because [students] can grab some workplace-ready skills and put them to use immediately,” said Matt Davis, dean of the College of Engineering, Technology and Management.

Bellevue’s mental health technician certificate program is one of its newest, designed to meet the shortage of qualified medical and mental health professionals.

The University’s people in business leadership certificate program, with an enrollment of several thousand students, has been redesigned and will launch in August.

Its Bachelor of Science/Computer Science degree will also launch this fall.

“About 25% of our total students are in that technical area right now,” Davis said. “They’re targeting a general purpose science degree that has been in demand for some time.”

The popularity of Bellevue’s undergraduate supply chain management program has led to the establishment of a Master of Science in Supply Chain Management to be rolled out late this fall.

“One of our fastest growing programs, clinical and mental health counseling, has about 800 students,” Davis said. “To maintain our accreditation in that, we’re required to have a certain number of faculty so we’re constantly recruiting. In our cybersecurity program, both undergraduate and graduate level are growing fast, so we’re always onboarding new faculty to keep up with the growth.”

Bellevue, which has been online since 1999, is now in the midst of rolling out its third generation of online instruction.

“Many students are demanding to have some sort of live video in those online classes, which Zoom has enabled us to do,” Davis said. “ Also, the online tutoring component and the faculty office hours is now video-enabled. This winter we’re rolling out our fully digital book classes with the books, learning materials and associated videos being online at the beginning of the class.”

Creighton University

The Arizona Department of Health Services awarded $11.9 million to Creighton University’s College of Nursing, according to a Creighton press release.

Of that total, $5.9 million will go toward scholarships for 80 accelerated nursing students and to hire an additional academic counselor, a clinical placement coordinator and a program manager. The remaining $6 million will be spent on further enhancing Creighton’s Phoenix campus, advancing the University’s plan to create cutting-edge academic spaces to help meet the future health care needs of Arizona.

This fall, Creighton will offer a new online Master of Health Informatics degree that will prepare students to leverage health data to improve care and promote better outcomes for patients.

Also this fall, Creighton will offer new online professional development programs in financial planning and financial psychology. The coursework covers some topics required to sit for the certified financial planner exam and is designed to make participants more familiar with how personal beliefs about money influence our spending, saving and broader economic behaviors.

According to a press release, Scott Shipman, who currently serves as director of clinical innovations for the Association of American Medical Colleges [AAMC] in Washington, D.C., has been named the inaugural holder of the CyncHealth Endowed Chair for Population Health at Creighton University, effective Sept. 1.

Dr. Joy Doll, formerly the vice president of community programs for CyncHealth, will return to Creighton as the program director for health informatics.

Creighton will open the $85 million CL Werner Center for Health Sciences Education this fall. 

The center will enhance the pipeline of health care service providers across Nebraska in a variety of fields using cutting-edge technology and next-generation learning spaces that provide hands-on, experiential learning opportunities that will get Creighton graduates into practice quicker and with more clinic-ready skills. 

With the state-of-the-art learning tools in the CL Werner Center, Creighton plans to add 3,800 new professionals by 2040 to join the other 6,500 health practitioners in Nebraska with Creighton degrees.

College of Saint Mary

Over the past six years, College of Saint Mary (CSM) has worked to build a master’s degree in physician assistant studies and doctoral degrees in occupational and physical therapy, according to Dr. Kimberly Allen, vice president of academic and student affairs.

“With each program fully accredited by its respective accreditation bodies, our attention has now shifted to refreshing the undergraduate pre-health pathway programs,” she said. “Our pre-health programs serve as a critical foundation for our graduate health programs education.”

CSM offers several pre-health programs that provide a strong science foundation and prepare students to excel in the entrance exams for their chosen fields. For example, undergraduates seeking an OTD or DPT degree will select exercise science, psychology or human biology. Early in their academic careers, pre-health students will participate in fieldwork experiences in social service agencies, public schools, hospitals, nursing homes, community outreach centers or mental health treatment centers.

Working across all health-related programs, faculty have made significant changes to increase opportunities to practice care for a diverse patient population. Partnering with Inclusive Communities faculty, students have engaged in work to identify their own biases while learning to confront prejudice and discrimination in health care settings.

“The Division of Arts, Sciences, and Professional Studies has engaged in smaller curricular changes that hopefully provide a bigger impact, such as making courses more inclusive and recognizing the diversity of perspectives in topics in readings, authors [and] course content,” Allen said. “Collectively, the goal is to meet students where they are in their learning journey and provide high-impact learning experiences steeped in women’s perspectives and rich cultural contexts.”

While managing significant programmatic changes, CSM’s core faculty remains strong. There have been no retirements this year, but a few faculty members have left the classroom to return to the clinical setting.

Metropolitan Community College

Metropolitan Community College (MCC) will add several new programs at the start of the 2023 fall quarter, according to Tom McDonnell, vice president for academic affairs.

These will include four new certificates in the architectural design technology program all focused on building information modeling [BIM], a basic and an advanced firefighter operations certificate, a facilities operations and maintenance certificate, a powersports and outdoor power technology degree — with specialty certificates in ATV/snowmobile, marine technician, motorcycle technician and outdoor power equipment technician.

New specialty certificates in information technology include cybersecurity, Cisco advanced networking, cloud/server administration, game developer, IT support, computer programming, and digital technology.

“We’ve had a handful of retirements this year, although no more than usual,” McDonnell said. “We’ve also hired on new faculty to support our new programs, most notably in powersports and in BIM.”

MCC announced the opening of Digital Express, located inside Building 10 on the Fort Omaha Campus in North Omaha. In addition to MCC students, the state-of-the-art facility is open to the public and offers free access to technology, meeting spaces, digital library and learning opportunities.

“Digital Express is a place where multiple generations can feel comfortable connecting, learning and creating,” Director Beverly Lahlum Taylor said in a press release.

A key feature of Digital Express is “Reboot Central powered by iFix Omaha.” The technology service desk offers low-cost technology repair provided by industry experts and MCC students pursuing careers in information technology. No membership fee is required to use Digital Express.

“We know the importance of creating an environment that promotes a sense of belonging,” Lahlum Taylor said. “Our goal is for everyone who comes through our doors to experience the community asset Digital Express is intended to be. It is a space that is designed for people to just go and be in. Not many spaces like this exist anymore.”