School of Health Professions receives grant to improve minority, military graduation rates

SAN ANTONIO (Aug. 27, 2012) — In an effort to encourage more underserved and underrepresented students – including minorities, active military and veterans – to earn bachelor’s degrees in the health professions, the School of Health Professions at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio is starting a three-part project working with area community colleges and The University of Texas at San Antonio.

The Student Tailored Educational Pathways project includes three objectives:

    1. Identifying and creating vertical alignment of two-year or associate degree course work to increase the number of students transferring to bachelor’s or higher degree programs in the health professions;
    1. Providing comprehensive retention services to the two-year or associate degree students before, during and after they transfer to the bachelor’s degree program; and
    1. Addressing workforce needs in the health professions by targeting military and veteran populations for degree completion programs.

The program is being funded through a $372,180 grant from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board as part of its Minority Health Research and Education Grant Program. The two-year program begins Sept. 1 and ends Aug. 31, 2014.

The School of Health Professions programs participating in this grant are the Department of Respiratory Care, the Department of Clinical Laboratory Science and the Department of Physical Therapy.

Dennis Blessing, Ph.D., project director and associate dean of the School of Health Professions, said the goal of the project is to remove the barriers that keep minorities, military members and veterans from advancing beyond an associate degree in their education.

“The unemployment rate for these populations is higher than normal. We need to create mechanisms that will draw them to the Health Science Center so they will earn a bachelor’s degree. We are trying to attract those attending community college as well as those in the workforce who have an associate degree,” he said.

This project will allow the Health Science Center to build partnerships with the community colleges and with UTSA, Dr. Blessing said. “We also are looking to expand this outside of San Antonio. The more people we can bring to the health professions the better.”

Dr. Blessing said although the School of Health Professions already has been striving to help these underserved students transfer to bachelor’s degree programs, this grant gives the funding needed to accomplish this goal.

“The state of Texas, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Texas Legislature are interested in bachelor’s degree completion and completion in a timely manner. For those students coming out of associate degree programs, we need to provide good vertical alignment with our programs so they have a smooth transition,” Dr. Blessing said. “Vertical alignment means the majority of the courses from the community college transfer to the bachelor’s program. We want to make sure the courses they take can be used for their bachelor’s degree.”

Catherine Ortega, Ed.D., co-project director and associate professor of physical therapy, said this is a military city, and retired or former military members have a higher unemployment rate than the general public.

“We need to do everything we can to get them to transfer to a bachelor’s degree program and then stay in school. For the non-traditional student, life can get in the way. They have family and other obligations. Through this project, we want to create peer mentoring, faculty mentoring and support services,” Dr. Ortega said.

By earning their bachelor’s degree, these students can earn more and enjoy more challenging work, she said.

“There really is a need for qualified workers in the health professions. Military members, veterans and other non-traditional students can contribute so much more to the many health professions if they will stay in school and complete their degrees,” Dr. Ortega said.


The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, one of the country’s leading health sciences universities, ranks in the top 3 percent of all institutions worldwide receiving federal funding. Research and other sponsored program activity totaled $231 million in fiscal year 2011. The university’s schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry, health professions and graduate biomedical sciences have produced approximately 28,000 graduates. The $736 million operating budget supports eight campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. For more information on the many ways “We make lives better®,” visit

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