Less a month from her retirement, Dean Elizabeth King, PhD, spent a late May afternoon looking ahead to next year’s class of first-year students.
In her office at the College of Allied Health Sciences, King reviewed the early reports for the incoming freshman class this August. Confirmations for accepted CAHS freshman are already up more than 10 percent from last year, and the accepted class includes more than 15 percent underrepresented minority students and an average ACT score of 25.
"We’ve got some of the brightest and most high-achieving students in the freshman class,” she said. "It appears the word is out—that students have a high probability of getting into professional school, to medical school, if you’re an undergraduate here at Allied Health. We have a rigorous program here and we’re very successful at getting students into professional schools.”
That rigorous curriculum has been built over the past 16 years since the college’s founding. Created from an array of existing health-related programs at UC as well as the addition of new programs, Allied Health, or CAHS, is now among the university’s fastest-growing colleges.
Its 23 degree programs are offered at the undergraduate, post-bachelor certificate, graduate and doctoral levels, and to on-campus and distance learning students in 50 states.
King was appointed CAHS dean in June 2002. She came to UC from Eastern Michigan University, where she served as the dean of Health and Human Services, and has also taught at the State University of New York at Buffalo.
When she began her role as the first full-time dean of CAHS, enrollment was around 500 students. Today, it is nearly 3,000.
But one of King’s biggest sources of pride is the college’s 85.7 percent retention rate—a mark of how many first-year students commit to the college’s curriculum and return for their sophomore year.
Helping with Financial Need and Rewarding by Merit
For many college students, the prospect of insurmountable student debt is the biggest barrier to committing to higher education.
To reduce that barrier for qualified allied health students, King has focused on creating and launching a new merit-based scholarship in the last year: the "SOAR Scholarship Campaign,” for "Student Opportunities for Achieving Recognition.”
The $2,000 annual scholarship is intended to help bridge the gap between what students can save or borrow for college and their ultimate tuition costs.
In addition to the financial aid, SOAR recipients are offered classes on financial literacy and management. If they maintain a 3.2 GPA and remain in the college, they are guaranteed SOAR funds for each year of their undergraduate program.
The initial idea for the program came from King’s talks with Caroline Miller, UC’s senior associate vice president for enrollment management.
Miller had found that high school seniors accepted into CAHS had lower rates of confirmation than other UC colleges, and King set about finding a way to help increase confirmation rates as well as increase financial support for these students.
"Caroline has been absolutely awesome in working with us,” says King. "She found that, for students who perform well academically, but who in the middle with their ACT scores, that even a relatively small scholarship can make a big difference for them in choosing to enroll at UC.”
King says she’s heard about financial need and student loan debt from many CAHS students—more than 80 percent of allied health undergraduates have financial need. Even with federal grants and loans, students have an average of $8,000 of unmet need each year, and an average of $28,500 debt at graduation.
"That’s a large amount for students,” says King, "and it’s especially difficult when many of our professions require graduate education. Their debt can be quite high after graduate school, so that’s why scholarships are so important.”
So far, the effort has resulted in two years of SOAR scholarships for CAHS students and a $2 million campaign to permanently fund the SOAR program. Ultimately, King wants the college to be able to offer SOAR scholarships to 10 percent of each incoming freshman class and 10 percent of each transfer class. She particularly hopes it can help recruit and retain minority students, who have historically been underrepresented in allied health professions.
Building a Community
King has made diversity and community a top priority at CAHS in recent years. In 2011, she worked with diversity coordinator Monica Wilkins to develop new outreach programs in local high schools and supported efforts to engage alumni in the creation of a mentoring program.
"It’s not just about recruiting students to our college,” she says. "We want to make sure students find a nurturing climate here and stay with us. That’s why programs like learning communities for freshman are so important. They learn very early that they are a part of a community here and that is what helps them be retained.”
Learning communities are part of the college’s "First Year Experience,” a yearlong course launched in 2005 under the leadership of director Carney Sotto, PhD. The course helps student learn study skills and meet their peers and upperclassmen; as part of the experience, all first-year students participate in a service learning activity in their spring semester.
King and CAHS leadership have also worked to foster opportunities for interprofessional learning before students start clinical rotations in their major of choice.
Created in 2012 under the leadership of associate dean Tina Whalen, EdD, DPT, the Mid-Collegiate Touch Point Conference offers a day of team-based discussion around a patient case study to expose students to other health care professionals in training.
Whalen will become Interim Dean of the college after King’s retirement on July 1.
"Elizabeth has been a tremendous influence on all of us in the college,” she says. "Although we are a ‘collection’ of health-related disciplines, Elizabeth has fostered a strong sense that we are a single entity. Each academic unit’s faculty and staff members are an integral contributor to the college and each student's success.”
As the college continually adds new degree programs and departments, King has worked to build a community among faculty and staff spread across different fields.
In 2010, the School of Social Work joined CAHS; recently added and upcoming master’s programs include distance learning degrees in health care administration and health informatics and a coming program in occupational therapy.
At such a rapidly growing and changing institution, she says community-building is a "never-ending process.”
"Creating a sense of belonging is very important,” she says. "The need to belong, to be respected and recognized and to be a part of something—it’s so primal and important and it never stops.”