Health Degree Meets Need

December 1, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — A newly-minted master’s degree in health administration is putting Grand Valley State University on the roster of West Michigan’s growing life sciences sector.

The two-year program, introduced in 2004, has graduated its first class of less than one dozen, and about 50 students are currently taking classes, said GVSU Professor Dan Balfour, director of the School of Public and Nonprofit Administration.

“It wasn’t a really big step to make in some sense, because the master’s in public administration has been here since 1978, and in 1990 a concentration in health administration was added to the MPA. Right around 2000, we started the initiative to expand that to an MHA,” Balfour said.

“We felt there was a demand for the health graduate degree. With the expansion of the health industry here in Grand Rapids, it was clear that a degree was going to be needed.”

The university hired one professor to round out a five-member set of experts, both full-time and adjunct faculty, to teach courses such as “U.S. Health Policy and Priorities,” “Health Economics” and “Public Financial Management.”

The degree requires 45 credit hours and features a choice of three specializations: Health Services Management; Financial Management; and Health Policy Analysis. Students are expected to spend 12 credit hours in their area of specialization.

Full-time attendance would produce the degree in two years, but Professor Steve Borders said the majority of students are people already working in the health industry with clinical or technical undergraduate degrees who attend part-time.

“We have a lot of nurses, mid-career nurses, pharmacists, what they call the allied health fields,” Borders said.

He said the program is slowly reaching out to area health organizations such as hospitals and insurance companies.

The application process requires the application form, three letters of recommendation, an essay and an example of academic writing, as well as college transcripts. For more information, visit www.gvsu.edu/spna/mha.html on the World Wide Web.

Balfour said enrollment has exceeded projections.

He said the program is in the earliest part of the two- to three-year process of seeking accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education. CAHME will send a consultant to review the GVSU program and provide feedback.

“It’s not just this university, but we’ll meet national standards,” Balfour said. “So you can take that degree and it’s even more readily recognized nationally than if you’re not accredited. It verifies we’re meeting standards for professional education.”

In addition to Borders, who joined GVSU four years ago from a research post at Texas A&M University, faculty includes professors Michael Payne and Jane Sponholz and Grand Rapids lawyer William R. Jewell.

“It’s an important degree for Grand Valley,” Balfour added. “There aren’t that many MHA programs, so we’re making a significant addition to Grand Valley’s offerings of professional programs. The key thing is that we’re meeting a critical need for this community.”    

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