Meeting society's needs
New academic programs introduced
For more than a century, Bluffton has prepared graduates to make a difference in the world with a distinctive blend of liberal arts and professional preparation. With society's increasing needs for health and social services professionals, Bluffton has introduced new offerings in social work and health care management—a new concentration in the MBA program and is planning additional programs in the near future.
For Bonnie Van Schoik, Bluffton's newest academic offering in health care is just what the doctor ordered.
Van Schoik is a medical technologist and, since 2008, director of laboratory services at Blanchard Valley Hospital in Findlay, Ohio, where she supervises about 75 staff members.
She is also a 2004 graduate of the Bluffton Cohort-based Organizational Management Program, a bachelor's degree-completion program with evening classes for working adults. Interested in continuing her studies in the university's master's degree program, she met this June with Ted Bible, director of adult and graduate education (AGE)—who introduced her, she says, to "just what I needed."
Van Schoik is among the first students pursuing Bluffton's master of business administration (MBA) degree with a new health care administration concentration. Under way this fall, with classes on Tuesday evenings, the two-year program will help health care professionals become familiar with current trends and regulations, as well as management techniques that will enable them to advance in their careers.
Developing a general set of management skills will be the focus during the first year. In the second year, the concentration will examine health care management practices through three specialized, elective courses—Health Care Economics and Policy, Health Care Financial Management and Health Care Informatics, which refers to information technology-related elements such as electronic medical records.
The areas of study caught Van Schoik's attention when Bible showed her course descriptions. "Definitely, with all the potential changes we are going to see in health care, I need to be on top of things, and this is very timely," says the Hardin County resident, who describes herself as an "information gatherer."
Learning about data analysis and financial decisionmaking—as well as ethics and conflict resolution—will help her in her directorial role, which includes budgeting for her department, she points out. "I'm excited we'll be studying these topics," she says. "I can apply any of it to what I do today."
And the level of training offered by the program can't be done in the workplace because time simply isn't available, she adds. "I want to do my job better, and this program looks like it is tailor-made for someone in my position." Van Schoik, who has worked at the Findlay hospital for 10 years, has been in laboratory medicine since she started working in a physician's lab while a junior at Kenton High School in 1973.
Blanchard Valley was among four hospitals where Dr. George Lehman, director of Bluffton's graduate programs in business, interviewed executives and human resources administrators to hear their institutions' educational needs and ideas for programs to meet those needs. He chaired an AGE task force that was charged last fall with mulling options for new programs and, given that St. Rita's Medical Center in Lima is the largest employer in Allen County, the growing health care industry came under consideration.
Talking to representatives from Blanchard Valley and St. Rita's, as well as from Lima Memorial Hospital, Upper Valley Medical Center in Troy and its parent organization, Premier Health Partners, Lehman learned that the hospitals have specialized training needs. Their biggest challenge, he heard, is moving people into management from clinical positions where they have medical credentials but no management background.
Historically, he says, the recognized program for hospital management has been a master's degree program in health care administration. However, "what's happened over time is that there's been a shift away from that degree to the broader MBA degree," he adds, explaining that the MBA provides a wider business perspective for hospital managers.
The local hospital representatives favored teaching a broader, more generic set of skills that a MBA program would address, such as how to handle budgeting, people and planning. They also said their managers would be better off in a group of students from various fields rather than strictly health care.
The latter point meshed with what Lehman and fellow business professor Dr. Karen Klassen Harder heard last year when they discussed issues and programs with a group of long-term care facility administrators in Bluffton's MBA program. They said "don't lose the mixed cohort structure; we need that," recalls Lehman, who spent most of his adult life in hospital administration before returning to his alma mater to teach in 1994.
The practitioners' input was also key to the creation of the three, six-week elective courses. They spoke to the need for astute financial management; understanding of public policy and the larger health care environment, including health care reform; and dealing with electronic medical records, large databases and other information technology in health care. "The prominence of that concern was surprising to me," admits Lehman, saying he had thought more solutions for using electronic medical record technology would have been found since he left the field.
The resulting Health Care Informatics course distinguishes the new Bluffton program from similar ones elsewhere, says Bible.
By next year, he says, when the three electives are first offered, the university hopes to have 10-12 students in the program, including those who start this year with core MBA courses and others who already have a Bluffton MBA but come back the second year to pick up the health care concentration.
"I hope they come out of this experience feeling ready to substantially increase their contribution to their organizations," Lehman says.
As for Bluffton, "I would hope we have a significant influence on how health care's provided in our region," he adds. "This is the kind of structured program we think makes sense."
Sandra Erickson has a history of helping others, from being a Scout leader and an aide to a quadriplegic girl at her son's high school to working in the Library of Congress' National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.
Now, wanting to make a career of service, she is the one getting assistance toward that goal.
The source is Bluffton, whose new evening classes in social work are enabling Erickson to pursue a bachelor's degree by night while working by day. Students can complete their social work degree in as little as three years via the evening classes, which are meeting on Mondays this fall.
"I had promised myself for a lot of years that at some point I was going to get my degree," says the Lima resident, who, before returning to her hometown six years ago, also helped organize a community Crime Stoppers program in North Dakota.
She came from a family of "college people," Erickson says, but she went the marriage and family route instead. But several years ago, with her children grown and on their own, "it was finally my time to do this," she says.
In January 2007, she started classes at Rhodes State College in Lima, where she received an associate degree in public service this June. Her final five months at Rhodes included an internship at Lima's Marimor School and, after graduation, she became a Marimor employee, caring for clients with multiple disabilities.
Erickson had a couple criteria for finding a place to pursue her bachelor's program in social work. "I wanted to go to a Christian school, and I wanted to be close to home," she says. But most important was the need to keep working during the day, she adds, so she was looking for somewhere that would offer evening classes.
"I am so glad Bluffton decided to also make social work a nighttime program, because it means I get to go to school," she says, calling the evening option "just perfect; exactly what I need."
Nontraditional students juggling work and classes have been in Bluffton's social work program throughout the five years that Jennifer Hughes, the program director, has been at the university. As a member of the human services advisory board at Rhodes, she has also heard about students earning associate degrees but having nowhere close to go for a bachelor's degree-completion program that fits their work schedules. So when Ted Bible, Bluffton's director of adult and graduate education (AGE), approached her about the possibility late last year, "it just made complete sense," Hughes says. "We needed to meet the needs of the students."
The idea was an offshoot of Bible's service on an AGE program development task force, aimed at building on the success of existing adult degree-completion programs and graduate programs in business. He thought about social work, he says, because he had seen statistics indicating that human services is among the largest associate-degree programs in nearby community colleges, and that social work is expected to be one of the fastest-growing fields in the country through 2018.
The employment projection is from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which, in its 2010-11 Occupational Outlook Handbook, estimates that the number of social work jobs will increase by 16 percent—faster than the average for all occupations—during the decade ending in 2018. Prospects are expected to be particularly favorable for social workers who specialize in the aging population or work in rural areas.
Bible, too, had heard about Lima-area students with associate degrees driving 90 minutes one way to pursue a bachelor's degree in social work through evening classes. That opportunity, he found, wasn't available from any northwest Ohio colleges or universities with social work programs accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. Noting that Bluffton's program has been accredited since 1982, and its graduates are in demand, he says "we are highly regarded, so it made sense to me that we should consider this."
The AGE task force agreed, after which a second group—chaired by Bible and including Hughes—was convened to, among other things, determine the program structure and curriculum as well as market demand.
There is no doubt about the demand, says Hughes, who directs a program that has nearly doubled in size from the 40-50 students enrolled when she arrived at Bluffton. "Right now, social work is a popular major. There are jobs for our graduates," the assistant professor says, citing contacts this summer alone from three agencies that were looking for Bluffton alumni. At the same time, she adds, the last five people hired by Allen County Children Services—where Hughes is board chair—have been Bluffton graduates.
Some agencies require that their social workers be licensed, and "we have pretty high pass rates" on the licensure exam, says Hughes, a licensed clinical social worker who maintains a private counseling practice in Lima. A bachelor's degree in social work from an accredited institution is needed to take the exam, and can also qualify the degree holder for advanced standing in a master's degree program, requiring only one year instead of two to complete it.
"In social work, we respond to the community's problems, whatever they may be," Hughes explains, saying the work provides "an amazing career ladder" on which the same college-taught skills can be applied to people at all ages and in various settings.
Adults who already have a bachelor's degree but are seeking that new career path are also among the 13-member cohort expected for the first evening classes. Teaching the classes are both regular Bluffton faculty and qualified adjuncts—practitioners in the community who teach part time.
"It's something we're good at, it's something the students need and it's not being provided elsewhere," Bible says.
It certainly suits Erickson, who considers social work "a calling for me." She isn't sure what she will ultimately do with her degree—probably some casework, maybe some counseling—but "I know I'll be working with people the rest of my life," she says.
A year ago, a Chronicle of Higher Education story listed public health as one of five "college majors on the rise." A year from now, Bluffton expects to be among the campuses where students can prepare for this growing field.
Planning for the possibility began last summer, and a task force is working toward the goal of having a public health major in place for fall semester 2011, says Dr. Sally Weaver Sommer, vice president and dean of academic affairs.
In addition to being compatible with Bluffton's mission—which includes preparing students for responsible citizenship and service to others—public health would be an interdisciplinary program with broad appeal, including to out-of-state and international students, says Weaver Sommer.
In 2009, Weaver Sommer initiated a series of conversations with Ross Kauffman, a public health Ph.D at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and brother of Bluffton's restorative justice faculty member, Rudi Kauffman. Ross Kauffman visited Bluffton to explore the full range of possibilities, including program requirements and employment possibilities. Those vary, say Weaver Sommer, from large organizations such as the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; to pharmaceutical and other industries; and working in health promotion, infection-control or teaching and research.
"All these factors came together," she says, to build momentum for a program that is an excellent fit for Bluffton and timely for students. "Public health is clearly a growing area, with great potential for our students in terms of professional opportunities," the dean points out, citing one projection of double-digit percentage growth in jobs in public health over a 10-year period through 2016. "There is clearly demand."
In addition, according to Weaver Sommer, an undergraduate public health program with planned concentrations in pre-epidemiology, public health advocacy and public health education will fit well with Bluffton's mission and current programs: "A public health program supports our mission of preparing graduates for service professions in a variety of community settings, and builds on our faculty expertise in chemistry, psychology, sociology, economics, biology and nutrition, among others."
Weaver Sommer says, "public health is simply a great fit for Bluffton to provide opportunities for our students and to address society's needs. I am excited that we are well along in our planning and looking forward to recruiting new students for fall 2011."
For more than 30 years, Bluffton has offered a food and nutrition major that is recognized for its superior preparation of undergraduates. Bluffton's dietetics program, accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Dietetics Education of the American Dietetic Association (ADA), has 98 percent of its graduates being placed in ADA internship positions within a year of graduation.
"The placement rate of Bluffton graduates is outstanding considering the national placement rate is 50 percent," says Weaver Sommer. "It really speaks to the quality of our undergraduate program."
Bluffton graduates go on to work in hospitals and long-term care facilities, nutrition consulting, food service management, research/teaching, public health departments, fitness and health centers, private practices and corporations.
Last academic year, the nutrition faculty began working with Weaver Sommer on developing a Bluffton-based year-long post-baccalaureate dietetic internship program, a step that is necessary for students to be eligible to take the national registration examination.
"Our nation has an urgent need for a new generation of professionals to help address critical public health issues, including obesity, diabetes and nutrition to serve the health-related needs of an aging population," Weaver Sommer says. "At this time, there is a critical shortage of post-baccalaureate internship programs to train and certify dietitians. Bluffton has the faculty expertise to develop a high-quality program and, in partnership with regional health and elder-care facilities, to train and certify dietitians to serve the needs of residents of Ohio and the nation."
Dr. Deb Myers, RD, LD, associate professor of food and nutrition and dietetics program director, is devoting her fall 2010 sabbatical to develop the dietetics internship program and community partnerships. Once candidacy is granted for Bluffton to be a site for the internship program, the first students could be admitted as early as the fall of 2012.