College Presidents Ellen Kennedy of BCC and James Birge of MCLA say there are more oppurtunities for the two institutions to collaborate to make higher education more accessible to students.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The county's two public colleges are teaming up to create a pathway for physical therapy assistants to continue their education.
Berkshire Community College and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts signed an articulation agreement on Thursday that opens the opportunity for a four-year degree in health sciences with a concentration in pre-physical therapy to BCC graduates.
The health sciences and community health education were added to the degrees offered by MCLA last year. The concentration in pre-physical therapy will now allow BCC students who have earned their associate's degree as a physical therapy assistant to matriculate into the MCLA program to complete the final two program years and earn a bachelor's degree.
"I think that we have a lot that we can do for our community," said Michele Darroch, BCC's PTA program adviser. "If you look at the [U.S.] Department of Labor Statistics, physical therapy is growing 30 percent faster than the average and that's both for PTAs and PTs so we're certainly doing something for our community."
Physical therapists require a clinical doctorate to practice, which usually means four years of undergraduate and three years of graduate study. College officials say the BCC-MCLA program helps ease the cost burden because students will be licensed to work as assistants while they continue their studies. MCLA also has an articulation agreement that gives applicants from its pre-physical therapy program preferred admission the Sage Colleges' doctoral program.
"If you look at our history, our PTA students have always gotten grades higher on their national licensing exam than the national average," Darroch said. "And in the last eight years, 95 percent of our graduates passed the licensing exam on the first attempt versus an 85 percent pass-rate nationally."
BCC President Ellen Kennedy touted the two-year school's 100 percent job placement for its students.
"Berkshire Health Systems would be unhappy if we say [students are] going to delay for two years but there might be ways that they can both work in that area but also become students here at MCLA," she smiled.
MCLA President James Birge said he and Kennedy had received an "enthusiastic note" from Commissioner of Higher Education Carlos E. Santiago that morning congratulating them on the articulation.
"This is really a great opportunity for BCC students to collaborate with MCLA and earn a bachelor's degree and go on either to graduate school or into a health professional field," said Birge, describing biology department Chair Anne Goodwin as a "rock star" for her efforts in pulling everything together. "From the start of our idea about health science as a major to the end, it was about a year for state approval for it, she was also developing a health education major ... I am amazed at what you and your colleagues were able to do.
"This is the beginning for us. We think there are very many opportunities and partnership programs."
The new health science majors are a first for the state's public institutions. The programs grew out of conversations with the health-care community and were made possible by in part by the new Feigenbaum Center for Science and Innovation.
Health sciences concentrations are pre-physical therapy and pre-occupational therapy (both eligible for preferred admission to graduate work at Sage) and pre-physician assistant and medical technology; biology also added concentrations in pre-medical professions and pre-veterinary. The community health education degree is also being eyed for an articulation agreement with BCC.
Physical therapy assistants can make more than $55,000 a year full time. Darroch and Goodwin said students' ability to continue working even part time while studying at MCLA will help them support their families and "have a debt that's way less than they would have had they gone on to Sage."
"It took a lot of creativity in getting this task put together in the most efficient way possible and a lot of time on people's cards in figuring out how to make this work," Goodwin said. "I'm proud of what we've accomplished. It's going to serve the students well and, in particular, with the Sage articulation, help them move on if they want to go."
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