As Radford University and the Jefferson College of Health Sciences continue working on a merger, a bill awaiting approval in the General Assembly would keep the plans on track for its anticipated July completion date.

Del. Nick Rush, R-Christiansburg, introduced the bill Tuesday. It would give the necessary state approval required to complete the integration of RU’s Waldron College of Health and Sciences with the Roanoke-based medical college. The bill would officially allow Radford University to open its Roanoke campus.

“Radford University is a public institution; therefore, the merger requires approval from the Commonwealth of Virginia,” wrote Radford University’s Vice President for University Relations Ashley Schumaker.

Rush, who chairs the Higher Education Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, also requested an annual $1.7 million increase in additional funding for RU, which Schumaker said would go towards operating expenses for the Roanoke campus.

The votes pertaining to legislation on the merger will occur later during the ongoing General Assembly session.

The merger was announced at a press conference at Jefferson College last January and was lauded as a major positive for both schools by officials from both institutions — as well as for downtown Roanoke. Carilion Health System owned Jefferson College but no money was exchanged in the deal and Carilion will continue to be a major partner after the process is complete.

The announcement follows a similar one by Virginia Tech in 2016 to center its new School of Neuroscience in Blacksburg while doubling the size of its research institute and partnering with Carilion and the city to create a health sciences innovation district.

“The nidus of all health careers is here in Roanoke,” said Nancy Agee, CEO of Carilion, when the announcement was made. “The opportunity is here for Jefferson College and Radford University to have all the health careers here as we flesh out even more the health sciences and technology campus. So that’s the really exciting part of this is being able to bring a lot more students to the area to grow our whole focus on health sciences.”

At the time of the announcement, Radford already had about 180 students enrolled in nursing and social work programs at the Roanoke Higher Education Center, and 90 students in a doctor of physical therapy program at Carilion Roanoke Community Hospital.

Jefferson College also is located at Community Hospital. The school, which started in 1982 as a two-year nursing program with a dozen students, now has 1,110 students enrolled in mostly bachelor’s and graduate programs.

Radford, Jefferson and the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine created an anatomy lab together three years ago.

Schumaker said that RU has an economic impact of $1.1 billion annually, and that the $1.7 million will directly and indirectly add an additional $37.9 million to the economy each year. She said that those numbers are based on a 2016 economic impact study conducted by the university that states that every dollar of state support to RU represents a $22 return on investment statewide and $10 regionally.

Following the January 2018 announcement, Schumaker said that officials from Carilion, RU and Jefferson College formed a transition team of more than 100 individuals to oversee the merger.

“Programs have been reviewed, and all programs currently offered by Jefferson College of Health Sciences will continue to be offered following the merger,” Schumaker said.

She said that planning has also involved the transition of students, faculty and staff and that systems have been reviewed for compatibility, and policies and procedures have been aligned for implementation following the merger.

Schumaker said that much of the work left to do involves state and accreditor approvals, which are underway and must be secured prior to finalizing the merger. The formal transition of students, faculty and staff will not occur until the merger has been fully approved, she said.

She said that much of the work has been completed and that the 18-24 month goal is on pace to be met. The first class of students will be enrolled as Radford University students for the 2019 fall semester.

Schumaker said that the overall goal of the merger is to meet the workforce demand. She said that growth will occur over the next several years, but expects enrollment in Roanoke to “remain at recent levels, which have been historic when examining the enrollment history of Jefferson College of Health Sciences.” She attributes the growth to the “high-demand, high-paying and high-quality programs that are offered at the Roanoke site.”

Schumaker said that next year’s tuition for students in Roanoke will be reduced by at least 10 percent compared to the current cost to attend Jefferson College with additional reductions expected in the future. The majority of undergraduate programs at Jefferson cost $26,416 plus fees for the 2018-19 school year and $11,210 including fees at RU, according to both school’s websites.

“Over time, the University will work diligently to align the cost for students studying in Roanoke with the cost for students studying in Radford,” she said.

Schumaker said the school will fall under RU, but naming the new site is still in the works.

“We are still working on development of a brand identity for our Roanoke campus that will reflect both the unique health sciences education experience provided to students in Roanoke and the strong partnership with Carilion Clinic,” she said.

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