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Education

Colorado Community Colleges Get $1 Million Gift To Support Future Health Care Workers

Nursing students, Arapahoe Community College
Arapahoe Community College
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The Kaiser Permanente Colorado Equity Scholarship Fund will aid students of color who are pursuing a health care credential a school in the Colorado Community College System.

The Foundation for Colorado Community Colleges recently announced a $1 million investment from a health care industry leader to help diversify the workforce. The Kaiser Permanente Colorado Equity Scholarship Fund will provide financial assistance to students from underrepresented communities.

Colorado Edition co-host Henry Zimmerman spoke to KUNC’s Stephanie Daniel to learn more about the scholarship fund.

Interview Highlights
These interview highlights have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Henry Zimmerman: Tell us about this initiative — who is eligible for a scholarship?

Stephanie Daniel: This is a 15-year endowed fund for students pursuing certificates or degrees in health care at a school in the Colorado Community College System (CCCS). Specifically, it’s for students who are African American, Black, Asian American, Pacific Islander, Latino, Hispanic, Native American, LGBTQ+, those with a disability or who are a veteran.

Joe Garcia, chancellor of CCCS, says it’s important to have scholarships like this:

“As you know and as the pandemic demonstrated to the rest of the country, we've seen that our communities of color often lack the health professionals and the health care institutions. As a result, we've seen significant gaps in health care service delivery. We want to make sure that there are more professionals in the field who come from the communities that currently are underserved. And we know that we educate a lot of those students."

According to the Foundation for Colorado Community Colleges, studies show that increasing diversity in the field of health care is a good thing. It enhances patient and provider communication, increases patient trust, and eliminates bias in care delivery. They say a diverse workforce could also reduce longstanding health disparities experienced by vulnerable populations.

This scholarship is for students who want to pursue careers in health care, like nursing, dental hygiene and X-ray technology. Why is this field so important?

The industry is a growing quickly. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says occupations in this field are projected to grow by 15% over the next eight years, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. Kaiser Permanente has partnered with CCCS since 2013 to financially support students.

Ellen Weaver, the director of Community Health and Engagement in Colorado, says:

“One of the things I'm most excited about for the scholarship fund is that it gets upstream of both the needs of the health care industry to have a robust and diverse workforce and also upstream for the individuals who are benefiting from these scholarships because they're going to have an opportunity to get into a career that provides a long-term living wage and lots of opportunities for career growth.”

This fund has a dual purpose, serving the students financially and creating a much stronger and more diverse workforce pipeline of health care workers.

Exactly. Here’s something I found interesting. Chancellor Garcia told me that overwhelmingly, students who attended a community college go to the one that is closest to where they live. And when they graduate, they tend to stay in the area. He talked about rural communities, and how it’s hard to get health care professionals to move there for a job. So, it makes more sense to educate and train the residents that are already live there:

“The overall goal is to both enroll more students of color in the health professions (and) to graduate them and return them to their communities where they can both have a better life for themselves because they now have a profession, but more importantly, serve the communities and strengthen those communities in so many ways. So that's our real goal, is to help contribute to overall both physical health (and) the economic vitality of our state.”

The Kaiser Permanente Colorado Equity Scholarship Fund will start accepting applications in 2022 and at least 28 scholarships will be awarded statewide each year.

This interview is part of KUNC’s Colorado Edition for June 15. You can find the full episode here.

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