STCC Wins $2M Grant Title III Funds Will Bolster Health Programs

Gail Carberry says Title III of the Federal Education Act is designed to help post-secondary institutions turn weaknesses into strengths.
At Springfield Technical Community College (STCC), one identified weakness — common to many schools today — is an inability to fully meet the needs of health care providers struggling to fill vacancies in nursing and other professions within the industry, said Carberry, the school’s vice president for Grants and Development.

To address that problem, Carberry and other administrators at STCC applied for a Title III grant that would, among other things, help identify and expand clinical opportunities within Western Mass. and also help improve success rates of students once they have enrolled. This summer, the college learned it will receive $1.8 million over the next five years to do just that.

That was music to the ears of Mike Foss, dean of the School of Health Sciences at STCC, who told The Healthcare News that the grant will be used to not only increase the quantity of health care students the college graduates, but the quality as well.

Indeed, some of the grant money will be used to purchase patient simulation equipment that will enhance learning opportunities and better prepare students for the challenges they will confront as health care professionals.

“We’re obviously very excited about this grant and what it means for students, future students, area health care providers, and the people those institutions serve,” he said. “We’re going to have an opportunity to enhance the learning experience of our students, and when you do that, you improve the quality of care that’s being provided locally.”

Foss said that while the grant amounts would not be considered substantial, they will give the school an opportunity to build upon its reputation as a leader in the use of patient-simulation equipment, perhaps enabling the college to leverage the Title III grant to receive more state and federal funding.

“You have to start somewhere, and that’s what Title III grants do, they get you started,” he said. “In time — and probably not very much time — people are going to look at what we’re doing and say, ‘we should throw some money at these people, because they know what they’re doing when it comes to upgrading labs and enhancing the educational experience.’”

On-the-money Analysis

Foss told The Healthcare News that while the grant has some specific goals — expanding health and nursing enrollments at STCC by 20{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5}, raising NCLEX test scores from a baseline of 83{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} to 90{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5}, and expanding scholarship support for nursing and allied health majors, among others — its broad goal is to help the school make students better prepared for the real world of health care.

The point person in that endeavor will be the director of Clinical Education, a new position to be funded by the grant, said Foss. This individual, which the school expects to hire in the next few months, will work with area health care providers, including many of the region’s leading hospitals, to identify new clinical opportunities.

“We have wanted a person who would be in charge of our clinical programs for some time now, and Title III will give us that,” he said. “At a school with 16 certificates or degrees, and all of them with clinical components, it’s nice to have one person to coordinate all that.”

The clinical education director will work to expand opportunities at existing sites, but also develop new clinical opportunities, he said. And this includes exploring options both off campus and at the college, he noted, adding that the school currently has a rehabilitation clinic and a dental hygiene clinic, and has plans on the drawing board to create a health and wellness center in the building now housing the School of Health Sciences.

Funds from the Title III grant will not be used to create the wellness center, but they will be used to modernize and equip the clinics in that facility, said Foss, who told The Healthcare News that the grant gives the college an opportunity to acquire more of the state-of-the-art patient simulation technology that has come on the market in recent years.

“We’re looking for computer-based simulation that is interactive, and goes from basic to very complex, and would follow the progress of our students as they worked their way through various scenarios,” he said. “Why buy a plastic mannequin that can’t interact with our students, when we can buy what we call ‘smart mannequins?’

The college already has two computer-based simulators — an adult and a child — but to better prepare students in a wide range of health programs, the college will need more pieces of equipment, he said.

“We’re going to look very seriously at what would be the next best thing we can do to upgrade the learning experience of our students so it’s more interactive,” he said. “That may mean a ‘smart mannequin,’ or it may mean sitting at a computer and talking with that computer.

“We want students to be more self-evaluating,” he continued. “We want them to have the opportunity to eventually work on their own, and one way to get them to do that is through simulation.”

Foss said a committee — the Simulation Oversight Group (SOG) has been created to help the clinical director and other School of Health Sciences officials make smart decisions about how grant dollars should be spent. “There’s so much new technology out there, we need a group like this to review current labs and rate experiences, and truly work as colleagues to decide how we can best use this money.”

Overall, the grant money will be put to a number of uses, including faculty and staff development, additional training, revamping curriculum, and other initiatives. The sum of the parts will be a more organized, more responsive health care program.

“Having faculty members be able to upgrade their professional development, and having a coordinator that will direct all the activities of our various programs — these are things we always dreamed about being able to do, but couldn’t,” he said. “That’s why we’re so excited about this.”

Down to a Science

When asked what the grant meant for the college, its students, and faculty, Foss said it would accelerate the process of creating “the finest high-touch, high-tech educational environment that’s possible.”

And in such a environment, students will become better equipped to handle what they’ll find on the front lines of health care.

“There’s no argument that simulation and upgraded labs that provide pre-clinical experiences for students will benefit them in the long run,” he said. “The more we put them through, the more agony they get to experience with us, the better they’re going to be able handle any kind of experience thrown at them. Every dime we spend is because of the patient.”