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Columbia Missourian

UM System, colleges to call for health care training funds

October 26, 2007 | 1:54 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The University of Missouri System is teaming up with four-year colleges and community colleges around the state to ensure more health care professionals graduate in the coming years.

Under a new agreement called “Preparing to Care,” the state’s colleges and universities will ask the legislature for $38.3 million in recurring funds to open more slots for students to become dentists, nurses, optometrists, pharmacists, physicians and therapists. Under the agreement, MU would receive an additional 209 medical students next year.

“This is a critical need in the state,” said UM System Interim President Gordon Lamb. “We can meet it with this, and 100 percent of our public institutions are involved.”

“We have a win, win, win,” he said.

Lamb will announce the plan at different stops throughout Missouri on his “2007 University Unity tour,” which begins Monday in Springfield. Lamb will meet in public forums with the presidents of higher education institutions in five cities to discuss the importance of higher education in the state.

The increase for medical students is in addition to the $39.6 million increase public higher education institutions are expecting to receive from the legislature for base operating budgets. Lamb said he has spoken with Gov. Matt Blunt and legislative leaders about the plan, and said he thinks they will take the initiative into consideration despite higher education cuts in past years.

“This has a lot of appeal, because it is so positive for so many constituencies,” UM System spokesman Scott Charton said. “Who can be against this?”

An agreement by all of Missouri’s public higher education institutions is unique, Lamb said. The Coordinating Board for Higher Education has also supported the plan, which strengthens it, Lamb said.

“It is our common future,” he said. “The state must step up to meet this critical need,” Lamb said.

Lamb said the initiative’s main goal is to ensure that Missourians have enough health care services in the future. By training future health care professionals in schools throughout the state, it is more likely that they will remain in Missouri, he said. Also, by training professionals, the schools are investing in “human capital,” Lamb said. Medical professionals will add important services to communities, especially in low-income and rural areas.

Another benefit — economic development — is more likely to happen in areas that adequate have health-care services, Lamb said.

Lamb’s tour is also aimed at making the public aware of the importance of higher education to the state. Lamb said he will ask the people he meets to contact their legislators to let them know that they support the initiative and more funding for higher education.

Charton said the tour will also remind legislators about the leadership higher education provides for the state. He said that before term limits restricted legislators’ tenure to eight years in office, the UM System could build long-lasting relationships with lawmakers.

“Legislators know about the university, and like the university,” Lamb said, “but they are in a different place now, where they are being pulled on by different needs.”