Expanding opportunities at UCA has been the focus of conversation among administration, faculty and students lately.
Current students want to expand campus life, faculty wants to increase educational options and the administration wants to make UCA more prominent in Arkansas.
Building an optometry school at UCA would help satisfy these desires by attracting more students to the biology department. It would increase opportunities for higher education not only at UCA, but also in Arkansas, as well as accrue revenue to aid other expansion goals. However, financing methods should be carefully considered so current and incoming students aren’t stuck with another reason to raise tuition.
Health care consulting group Tripp Umbach is already conducting a study to assess the possibility of building the new school. If the administration decides to do so, it would be a great step toward establishing our importance in Arkansas.
College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics Dean Stephen Addison said the only anticipated change to the university would be an increase in pre-optometry majors, of which we receive few. The problem with attracting these students is that there are no optometry schools in Arkansas, and pre-optometry students typically go to school out of state. Attracting these students and keeping them in Arkansas would be wonderful, but it is unlikely that it would be the only change to UCA.
Unfortunately, building the school would be costly. Conducting the study to even contemplate the idea costs $30,000. While the long-term financial gain from incoming undergraduates and pre-optometry graduate students will be beneficial, administration should consider all private funding options before raising tuition to cover the cost.
Not to assume that the university would fund the project solely or mostly through tuition, but it should definitely put forth as much effort as possible to not raise tuition and keep an open dialogue about its funding plans.
There are many yearly grant and award opportunities offered by the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO) that help colleges build optometry schools. Through these programs, corporations that employ optometrists, such as Wal-Mart, offer financial support.
This is just one option. There are also insurance companies and optometric equipment companies that offer similar aid.
Also, though it is unlikely to get much state funding, it would be worth a try to reach out to the state government for minor aid. It’s possible that the prospect of keeping optometrists in Arkansas would be alluring to state officials. States with optometry schools such as Oklahoma and Missouri report higher numbers of working optometrists than Arkansas, according to each state’s optometric associations.
Yes, we should do what we can to bring this opportunity to UCA and Arkansas. Yes, an optometry school would increase attendance, and therefore money, to UCA.
But be cautious in funding such a big project, because tuition is still a factor for incoming freshmen and graduate students.
If the administration works with the biology department to assess private option funding, then we could potentially make money from this endeavor instead of holding students responsible through tuition increase.