Mercer Trustees Approve Record Operating Budget, Establishment of Health Sciences Center


ATLANTA — Mercer University’s Board of Trustees today approved the institution’s first $200 million operating budget and authorized establishment of the Mercer University Health Sciences Center, a multi-campus academic health center encompassing the School of Medicine, College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and Georgia Baptist College of Nursing.

The $202,184,065 operating budget for 2012-2013 represents an $8,749,024, or 4.5 percent, increase over the current budget. Trustees voted to hold the tuition increase for Mercer’s undergraduate programs to 2.9 percent, the lowest increase in many years. Students in the School of Medicine’s M.D. program will see no increase next year, while other graduate and professional programs will experience tuition increases of between 1 percent and 4 percent, with most coming in at 3 percent or less.

The Mercer University Health Sciences Center, which will become operational on July 1, will enroll more than 1,700 students, employ more than 400 full-time faculty and staff, and graduate more than 500 physicians, nurses and nurse educators, physician assistants, pharmacists, physical therapists, family therapists, public health professionals, and biomedical scientists each year.

In addition to the three current health sciences units – medicine, pharmacy and nursing – the new Center will open a fourth academic unit on July 1, 2013. The new College of Health Professions will incorporate the master’s-level physician assistant and the doctoral-level physical therapy programs, which currently are housed within the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, and the master’s-level public health program, which is currently offered in the School of Medicine. The new college will also allow for the addition of future health sciences programs, such as occupational therapy, as well as expansion of existing programs on multiple Mercer campuses.

“Mercer University has long been recognized as a leader in preparing health care professionals for our state,” said Mercer President William D. Underwood. “Through the establishment of the Mercer Health Sciences Center, the University will be better positioned to meet the rapidly growing demand for health care professionals in Georgia.

“Improving the accessibility, affordability and quality of health care depends on greater teamwork and collaboration among various health care professionals, and few institutions in the Southeast match the breadth of health care programs and professionals found at Mercer,” Underwood said.

Dr. Hewitt W. (Ted) Matthews, longtime dean of the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and vice president for health affairs at the University, will move into the role of senior vice president for health sciences, effective July 1, and oversee the new Center.

“Establishment of the Mercer Health Sciences Center will enable the University to expand and enhance clinical education opportunities with health systems across the state, align the academic units to increase collaboration on basic, clinical, and translational research, as well as educational programs, and attract additional external research funding,” Dr. Matthews said. “It will also allow the University to bring new health sciences programs to communities it serves across the state and provide benefits to undergraduate health sciences programs in Macon, such as biomedical engineering, global health and pre-professional programs.”

In other action, the board also approved a new master’s program for the School of Medicine, as well as a new certificate program and major curriculum revisions to two degree programs within the College of Continuing and Professional Studies.

The School of Medicine received approval to offer a Master of Science in preclinical sciences. The degree program will be a two-year, 31 credit-hour course of study that prepares graduates for teaching science, laboratory research, publishing or policy-making, as well as advanced degrees in biomedical research or professional health care. Additionally, the program is designed to help bolster the skills of academically disadvantaged students and help them to enroll and succeed in a traditional Doctor of Medicine program. Students will be recruited from rural and underserved areas of Georgia with the intent that these students will return to their hometowns to practice as primary care physicians. The degree program will be offered on the Macon campus beginning this fall.

The Board also approved major curricular changes for two College of Continuing and Professional Studies degree programs, as well as reduction in the number of course hours required for graduation in three programs. The programs with reductions, from 127 credit hours to 120, include liberal studies, public safety leadership and human services. The College’s revised degree programs are: the Bachelor of Liberal Studies, which becomes a Bachelor of Arts in liberal studies, and the Bachelor of Science in Social Science in public safety leadership, which becomes a Bachelor of Science in public safety leadership. The changes will be effective for students entering this fall.

The College of Continuing and Professional Studies also received approval to offer a Certificate in Health Coaching for health system employees, beginning with Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta. The program will be taught by faculty in the Department of Counseling and Human Sciences in collaboration with Piedmont Healthcare subject matter experts. The certificate program will prepare participants to improve patient compliance and outcomes by helping them understand information provided by physicians and other caregivers, ensuring continuity of care across multiple specialties, and educating the patient in self-management of chronic diseases using evidence-based guidelines. The program is designed as a hybrid online and in-person program composed of 10 course units, each with six hours of instructional time. The certificate will be offered first to Piedmont Heart Institute and Piedmont Medical Care Corp. employees beginning in January.

About Mercer University
Founded in 1833, Mercer University is a dynamic and comprehensive center of undergraduate, graduate and professional education. The University enrolls more than 8,300 students in 11 schools and colleges – liberal arts, law, pharmacy, medicine, business, engineering, education, theology, music, nursing and continuing and professional studies – on major campuses in Macon, Atlanta and Savannah and at four regional academic centers across the state. Mercer is affiliated with four teaching hospitals — Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah, the Medical Center of Central Georgia in Macon, and The Medical Center and St. Francis Hospital in Columbus — and has educational partnerships with Warner Robins Air Logistics Center in Warner Robins and Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta. The University operates an academic press and a performing arts center in Macon and an engineering research center in Warner Robins. Mercer is the only private university in Georgia to field an NCAA Division I athletic program.
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