OUR VIEW: ICC strengthens its health science role

By NEMS Daily Journal

In Northeast Mississippi, health-related employment is among the fastest-growing and best-paying sectors of the economy, and Itawamba Community College’s commitment to a new $15 million health science education center in Tupelo will support it.
A kickoff banquet on Tuesday night outlined a campaign to raise $8 million of the unfunded costs from private donors. The college has secured commitments of $5 million from contributors, including $2 million from the Gilmore Foundation in Amory. ICC has pledged $2 million from grants.
The Gilmore Foundation’s endowment was enhanced by the sale of Gilmore Memorial Hospital, and it has made numerous commitments to fund education improvements.
ICC has more than 7,000 students on its Fulton and Tupelo campuses, including the Belden Center. The new health sciences facility is expected to help grow the health sciences enrollment, which is limited by space constraints.
The two-story structure will enclose 75,000 square feet. It will be near the administrative headquarters of the Lee County School District on the ICC-Tupelo campus on College View Drive.
The center will house the college’s eight allied health clusters in one location.
“We want to maximize the future in health care in the region by increasing the number of graduates in that field and taking advantage of the strategic location for students,” ICC President David Cole said on Monday night.
That location places it near North Mississippi Medical Center, which is a major employer of ICC health sciences graduates. The Gilmore Hospital in Amory and the Baptist Memorial Hospital System’s campuses in Northeast Mississippi (New Albany, Booneville, Oxford, Columbus and Ripley) also are employment sources for ICC program graduates.
The new structure will house associate degree nursing, licensed practical nursing, health-information technology, occupational therapy assistant, physical therapist assistant, radiologic technology, respiratory care technology and surgical technology.
ICC also has a large and growing workforce and technical training campus at Belden, the other half of its concentration in preparing employees for the region’s businesses and industries.
Currently, the college has a 9.5 to 1 application to acceptance ratio for health sciences – extraordinarily high demand for limited enrollment programs. Dean of Health Sciences Harold Plunkett said, for example, this academic year the associate degree nursing program had 850 applicants for 50 slots, and 500 applications for 20 slots in the Licensed Practical Nursing curriculum.
Plunkett said ICC hopes with the new building it can increase health sciences enrollment by 25 percent from its 475 students in 2010-2011.
Education and employment go hand in glove. ICC gets it.