Swamped by student interest in medical-support careers, Salt Lake Community College will stop accepting applications to some of its professional health programs rather than allow waiting lists to keep growing.
Wait lists for students accepted into the radiology technology program now stretch to 2019, and are four or more years for nursing and dental hygiene, according to Loredana Haeger, dean of SLCC's School of Health Science. Administrators have decided to scrap waiting lists and develop a new admissions process that will be announced Nov. 1.
"We don't want to continually add to these waiting lists. The level of interest is rising. Jobs are disappearing in other sectors, and more individuals are looking to health care as a career," Haeger said.
The college will honor its commitments to students who have completed prerequisites and been assigned a start date. Administrators will meet Monday with students interested in health-science programs to update them and address their concerns.
"We are going to regroup and look at our old system and look at a new system and figure out a way for you to navigate between the two in a way that benefits you," said college spokesman Joy Tlou. "We are being more sophisticated and helping students to make better decisions about their future."
Meanwhile, the School of Health Sciences expects to close applications to its other programs. Once spots fill up, no applications will be taken for the physical therapy assistant, surgical technology, medical assistant, and occupational therapy assistant programs. Most of the affected programs offer two-year associate's of applied science degrees. The surgical technology and medical assistant programs offer certificates of completion.
While students flock to these programs, adding more classes will not address the waiting-list problem.
"If the fix was that simple, we would have done it," Haeger said. The college's ability to award degrees is limited by job demand and availability of rotations learning opportunities in a clinical setting which are required for graduation. Hospitals have been cutting back on rotations as a cost-saving move, while the number of nursing students and graduates rises, especially as for-profit schools launch new programs to address student demand.
"We are competing with other institutions who are trying to get their students through the door of that hospital. There is a bottleneck in those rotations," Haeger said. Administrators also have to ensure that graduates get jobs or risk losing program accreditation.
With input from faculty, health industry and school advisory boards, Haeger hopes to develop a new system for admitting students that is fair and does not impose lengthy waits.
"It's a way to improve retention, improve career selection so they find a better fit, and make sure students graduate and do well on licensing board exams," she said.
Last year, some students told The Tribune that they turned to for-profit schools, which charge tuition three to four times that of a public community college, because it would take two or more years to get into SLCC's nursing program. At for-profits schools, they might have been able to start sooner, but often they took out loans of up to $30,000.
Tlou said actual start dates for students on wait lists are usually sooner than indicated on students' acceptance letters because many students in line change course, allowing others to move up.
Still, the waits pose problems for the college. Knowledge that students gained in the prerequisite classes gets rusty, new opportunities and interests arise, and "life happens," according to Haeger.
"They have to put those plans on hold for so long. What they learned three or fours years ago is a vague notion. Those courses might become obsolete in their mind," Haeger said. "Some drop out and we have an empty seat that can't be filled for two full years. We function with cohorts. They begin at the same time and end at the same time."
In nursing, the school accepts 80-student cohorts each fall and spring. The annual dental hygiene cohort has been cut from 24 to 18, and radiology technology takes about 30 every other year.
P Salt Lake Community College will announce new admissions policies on Nov. 1 for its various professional health-science programs. On Monday advisers will hear student concerns and provide updates. The 90-minute meetings will be at 11:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. at SLCC's West Jordan campus, 3491 W. Wights Fort Road, in the Student Pavilion.