Central Community College: Health Profession Opportunity Grant Program
Strengthening Rural Community Colleges Peer Learning Network
Following our June 2022 Rural Health Grants webinar, we were able to hear from Central Community College (CCC) in Nebraska to learn about their institution’s experience as a recipient of a Health Profession Opportunity Grant (HPOG) and their Project H.E.L.P. (Health Education Laddering Program). The Health Profession Opportunity Grant, administered by the Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, awards grants to organizations to provide education and training to TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) recipients and other low-income individuals for occupations in the health care field that pay well and are expected to either experience labor shortages or be in high demand.
Applying for HPOG
Central Community College’s journey with HPOG began in 2010 when they applied for the first time and received a five-year grant for $1.5 million per year for a total of $7.7 million. This funding allowed CCC to create Project H.E.L.P. and assist low-income individuals in overcoming barriers to success during their education and lead them to high-demand, well-paying jobs in the health care industry. Participants receive supportive services such as intensive success coaching, scholarships, laptop checkout, scrubs, transportation assistance, resume/interview preparation and job placement assistance. Project H.E.L.P. also works with community agencies and area employers to provide participants with a wrap-around approach to overcoming barriers while learning about the healthcare field.
When applying for the HPOG, the Grants team at CCC was also writing an additional grant for veterans. Having two grants in development was a real challenge for their institution. However, at the same time, a group from the healthcare industry in the area was working in collaboration with CCC to brainstorm ideas when the HPOG opportunity became available. These individuals became a great resource and supported the planning of what CCC wanted to do with the grant. At the beginning of Project H.E.L.P., CCC really focused on their institution and getting low-income individuals and TANF recipients into healthcare programming and into high paying jobs. With the grant funds CCC was able to enhance their nurse aide program on all three of their campuses. They were also able to start up an occupational therapy assistant program and pharmacy tech program with the funding.
In 2015, CCC applied and received another HPOG grant for $2.3 million per year for five years for a total of $11.8 million. In Phase 2.0 of Project H.E.L.P., CCC wanted to figure out how to take the next step and decided to partner with three other community colleges within Nebraska to make the program bigger and better. Although, this involved additional oversight for compliance it made the program more manageable for the program directors.
While writing their grants CCC leveraged their institution’s research department to help tell their story and tried to paint a better picture of their rural institution. During the initial application process, they also included the team that would be operationalizing the grant. This helped set realistic and achievable goals for the grant and the program with additional buy-in from the operations team.
Operationalizing HPOG – Project H.E.L.P.
Project H.E.L.P ultimately served students that were participating in about 15-20 short-term programs at CCC. These programs included nursing assistant, medical assistant, medical lab technology, surgical technology, occupational therapy assistant, and physical therapy to name a few. The HPOG funding allowed CCC to expand their wrap-around support services to the students that they were serving. For example, if there was one student that started at one school and then transferred to another, they were able to continue to serve them with the same services that the student was accustomed to receiving.
Additionally, CCC was able to partner with the other institutions to expand their surgical technology program and lab sites to the other community colleges. This made courses more accessible to students pursuing these programs, as students could complete their pre-requisite courses remotely and join the surgical technology lab that was local to them.
Partnerships in general were important to the success of Project H.E.L.P. They were able to partner with other community colleges, their community support agencies, and employers. CCC had three career coaches who worked with students to prepare them for jobs as well as with employers to cultivate relationships. There were approximately 200 employers that CCC partnered with and were regularly touching base to maintain the relationship. While some employers would send individuals to CCC to receive training, CCC would send students to the employers to get jobs. Employers would also come to class to help prepare students through mock interviews and would provide insights on what interviewing at their organization looked like. CCC also would take students to site visits of various employers’ facilities.
Types of Wrap-Around Services Provided
Project H.E.L.P. provided wrap-around services to students that were a part of the program. The services included intensive success coaching where students would regularly meet and be provided support towards any barriers that they were facing with going to school. Other services that CCC provided students with was career coaching, support with resume writing, applying for jobs, and mock interviews. CCC was also able to provide scholarships and financial assistance to students because of HPOG. A gas card initiative was established to provide students with gas cards to ensure that they were able to get to campus to attend class. Through this initiative, CCC would provide students with a fleet gas card where the limitations of the amount of gas that students were allotted per week. The allotment was based on things such as how far the student lived from campus and the type of vehicle they drove.
CCC was able to provide laptops that students could check out and even were able to seek support and assistance for items that they needed for class such as scrubs and textbooks. Furthermore, CCC was able to provide emergency assistance for students. For instance, if a student was on their way to class and got a flat tire with no ability to buy a new one, CCC was able to provide emergency assistance to support the student fixing their vehicle. The most frequently utilized wrap-around services that students leveraged were the gas cards and scholarships.
At the conclusion of the HPOG program, CCC was able to continue with their local coordinators for the nursing assistant program and the lab sites for the surgical technology program. CCC is currently working on a success coaching program to support students which would be very similar to what was done through Project H.E.L.P.
Challenges and the Impact of the Pandemic
There were many great accomplishments that CCC was able to pursue through Project H.E.L.P. but serving 72 counties within Nebraska was challenging. The HPOG funding was part of a larger study, and this meant that CCC could not serve all students with the funding. As a result, individuals that qualified for the program were entered into a lottery system to get into the program. Additionally, while CCC went back and forth on providing childcare assistance, they ultimately decided not to provide childcare assistance through Project H.E.L.P. They did partner with other community organizations to support students in having a plan for childcare.
The flexibility of the grant allowed CCC to make changes throughout which permitted CCC to adjust as they saw what was needed and what was working. Originally, the emergency assistance was not written into the grant, but they saw the need to shift to support their students. Also, the flexibility was extremely helpful when the COVID-19 Pandemic hit. During the COVID-19 Pandemic, CCC shifted many things online and were remote like many other institutions for some time. They realized since students were not needing the gas cards because they were not traveling to campus, that they would be able to shift and focus on making sure that students were able to have access to laptops and other things that were needed to successful attend class.
Partnerships were essential in the overall success of the program. There were several partners who helped in recruiting for students to participate in the program. Additionally, CCC mentioned that outside of their regular applications for enrollment, many students learned about the program through word-of-mouth from a current partner or student.
When asked about what resources they would have wanted to include when the grant was being written, CCC stated that it would have been great to include the emergency assistance from the very beginning. Although, they were able to eventually build this into Project H.E.L.P., many students could have benefited from it early on. Also, it would have been helpful to provide food assistance to students, but that was not in the scope of the grant.
CCC also informally surveyed their students that participated in the program and found that while the financial assistance through the scholarships and gas cards were very helpful, it was the success coaches that were students’ favorite part of the program. These relationships really ensured that students were able to continue with the program and stay engaged.
As a result of the HPOG funding, CCC was able to launch their occupational therapy assistant program and pharmacy tech program which now has great enrollment. Without the HPOG funding, CCC would not have been able to get these programs up and running as quickly as they did. They were also able to purchase various materials, such as nursing simulation packages, which improved the nursing program. Overall, the HPOG funding and Project H.E.L.P. enhanced CCC’s programming, while allowing them to provide additional resources to students to be successful.
Sean Robins is the Policy Associate at the Association of Community College Trustees leading the Strengthening Rural Community Colleges Initiative to convene rural community college leaders while providing technical support, assistance, and resources on federal policy and advocacy. This initiative builds on ACCT’s prior work through the Strengthening Rural Community Colleges report that engaged rural community college presidents and trustees to gather information about the challenges faced by these institutions.