By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
SIUE’s Office of Educational Outreach hopes to expand on corporate partnerships that allow businesses a convenient way to add to their employees’ education credentials.
Interim director Mary Ettling said her office is stepping up efforts that have been underway for many years, primarily with area hospitals. The idea is to get a wider base of businesses willing to contract with and pay SIUE for accelerated classwork taken by their workers.
“That takes out the need for the student to figure out how to pay for their classes, how to navigate things that students normally have to figure out and allows them to just start taking their classes,” she said.
A corporate partnership is an exclusive contractual agreement between SIUE and a company for the sole purpose of building mutually beneficial relationships that align industry needs with the university’s resources. Ettling’s office works collaboratively with university academic units to create the contract.
Most of the program effort so far has revolved around health-care organizations and some smaller hospitals.
If hospitals need, say, a baccalaureate-prepared nurse, the SIUE office creates a contract with the hospital and then moves forward with the appropriate School of Nursing or Health Care Informatics programs.
So far, the office has built up 12 program partnerships that involve seven hospitals and the Madison County Regional Office of Education.
The partnerships can involve master’s level programs or specific sets of courses, like a professional development sequence, that would help someone in a particular profession.
Ettling has been talking more recently with representatives of the Madison County Office of Employment and Training about new opportunities, perhaps using the county’s Incumbent Worker Training program, which pays for training through Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act funds, and helps businesses effectively train and retain employees by providing skills upgrades. The program aims to help companies remain competitive through an improved workforce.
Ettling said that smaller businesses don’t have the resources of larger companies, like hospital systems, when it comes to paying for or coordinating education of employees.
“Hospitals have a lot of human resources infrastructure to handle billing and monitor reimbursements,” Ettling said. “Smaller hospitals, smaller companies, smaller entities don’t always have those immediate resources.”
Such resources would address things like payroll deductions if students went over what their cap was for the year.
“So, we’re looking at ways to engage with smaller companies that may not have that infrastructure,” she said.
BJC HealthCare and SSM Health are two of the biggest participants. Anderson Hospital in Maryville, Gateway Regional Medical Center in Granite City and Hospital Sisters Health System (HSHS) are involved, too.
“We also work with Baptist Hospital in Kentucky, which has locations in Paducah and Madisonville,” Ettling said.
The office’s first partnership was in healthcare informatics, which is a degree program offered out of the Graduate School but coordinated with the School of Nursing, which provides full advising and career advisement to professional nurses.
The healthcare informatics program provides those who have experience in healthcare graduate level courses in nursing, computer science, business, instructional technology, organizational psychology and education to equip them to manage existing and emerging demands placed on healthcare professionals as a result of rapid advances in technology.
“That’s a really integrated degree and that was our first partnership. We actually did that in collaboration with BJC. We had some people from BJC help us develop the program,” Ettling said.
Some hospitals have sought help from the university as part of their attempts to gain Magnet status in which a certain percentage of nurses have to be baccalaureate prepared. Magnet status is an award given by the American Nurses’ Credentialing Center, an affiliate of the American Nurses Association, to hospitals that satisfy criteria designed to measure quality of nursing.
She is hopeful of establishing corporate partnerships that will focus on getting MLS certification for people who have an associate’s degree in medical technology. Also being explored is a master of arts in teaching where SIUE would offer special education certification to paraprofessionals.
The corporate partnership program began in 2010, and Ettling, who has been at the university for a decade, has been involved for most of its existence.
The possibilities are arrived at through negotiation up front.
“Part of the benefit of a corporate partnership is we offer a negotiated rate. It’s not like a slashed tuition rate, it’s actually very close to what a tuition and fee rate actually is,” she said.
The added benefit is that students will have a plan all the way to graduation.
“So, they know how much they will owe out of pocket and how long it’s going to take to complete. They can still change what they want to do, but they understand up front.”
Regarding the length of programs, most offer accelerated terms (such as eight-week sessions), and the entire program is usually designed to be completed in two years should a student desire the most expeditious path. How long it takes the student to complete the program is determined by the student. The programs are designed to be flexible so students may accelerate or slow the pace depending on their work and family needs.
“I think this flexibility is a top priority for working professionals,” Ettling said.
The partnership provides a “viable pathway to a four-year degree for those people who have at least some college, she said. Most of it is designed for people with two-year associate’s degrees or those wanting to wrap up a two-year master’s level program.
“It’s straightforward, easy to understand and workforce aligned,” she said. “We’re going to create these kinds of pathways for the kinds of jobs that people are needing now — or five years from now.”
One of the highlights of the program, she feels, are the student services provided out of her office, which offers what she calls “a one-stop-shop philosophy,” coordinated by student advisor Stephanie Simpson.
Staff from the School of Nursing have provided tremendous support to students as well, she said.
Ettling sees the efforts as “an opportunity for the businesses here to keep our talented students, to engage them.” The community benefits by keeping the students in the region.
Once deemed admissible as a student, the worker’s job is simply to “get their materials, do the work and gain the knowledge,” she said.