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$2.38 Million Award to AIC Nursing Program Helps Disadvantaged Students

Dr. Cesarina Thompson

Dr. Cesarina Thompson said the ‘meaningful’ addition to the award means more money per student — in the case of AIC, 50% of tuition.

Dr. Cesarina Thompson called it a “no-brainer.”

But recognizing the need for a $2.38 million grant — which will benefit disadvantaged students at American International College — was the easy part. Landing it was more challenging, and gratifying.

Having just completed her first six months as the new dean of AIC’s School of Health Sciences, Thompson is thrilled to see the school on the receiving end of the largest federal grant ever awarded to the institution. In fact, the grant, spread over four years, is the largest awarded to a Massachusetts college under the Scholarships for Disadvantaged Students (SDS) program. AIC is in a select group, as only 99 grants were awarded nationally.

“The minute I saw the grant application before submission, I knew this was a no-brainer for us,” said Thompson, who helped to write and edit part of the grant proposal and offered suggestions before she came on board in July 2012.  “But these grants are very competitive, and the percentage that are funded are very few, so we are fortunate.”

The SDS program was redesigned to ensure larger, more meaningful awards to schools and therefore enable institutions to tackle the major barrier to a disadvantaged student’s access to a health-profession education, which is high tuition costs.

Thompson explained to BusinessWest that the ‘meaningful’ addition to the award means more money per student — in the case of AIC, 50% of tuition.

She added that, since AIC is a Title III Institution, it has a high percentage of first-generation and low-income students for whom the cost of attending the program poses a severe financial hardship. Thompson said the Title III program helps eligible institutions of higher education become self-sufficient and expand their capacity to serve low-income students by providing funds to improve and strengthen academic quality, institutional management, and fiscal stability. Because of this mission, AIC is already successfully developing and implementing programming to recruit and retain disadvantaged students, and the SDS grant is just one more plus for AIC students who need some extra help.

The SDS program promotes diversity among health-profession students and practitioners by providing scholarships to full-time students with financial need from disadvantaged backgrounds who are enrolled in health-profession and nursing programs. AIC will be responsible for selecting scholarship recipients, making reasonable determinations of need, and providing scholarships that do not exceed the allowable costs — which include tuition, reasonable educational expenses and reasonable living expenses — with a cap of $15,000 for the total scholarship award.

AIC currently has the largest BSN program in the area, and also offers a master of science in Nursing program. AIC President Vince Maniaci said the goal is to award the meaningful scholarships to at least 40 disadvantaged nursing students annually, which will enable more disadvantaged and minority students to obtain a baccalaureate degree in nursing.

“This money will help high-achieving, financially needy students to seamlessly progress in their nurse education without interruption. It should also increase the number of diverse nurses able to serve their communities,” Maniaci said.

The award, which comes from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), is a small part of the Affordable Care Act, which President Obama signed into law in March 2010. The law aims to improve the nation’s current healthcare system by increasing access to health coverage for Americans and introducing new protections for people who have health insurance; it also provides new ways to hold insurance companies accountable.

In the case of those students less fortunate who want to pursue a career in healthcare, the law also supports programs that will help increase the number of primary-care physicians, nurses, physician assistants, and other healthcare professionals.

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, a graduate of AIC who helped to secure the federal grant, was on hand recently to announce the award. “I know firsthand how important financial assistance can be during the college years. That’s why I am so confident this program will help more local students earn their nursing degrees,” he said.

Added Thompson, “it came to light recently that one student who was recently awarded would probably not have been able to compete the program because both her parents were out of work. And many of our students with the economic downturn are working 20- and 30-hour work weeks and trying to go to school full-time … that’s just near to impossible, especially when they are in a nursing program.”

Looking at the larger healthcare picture, Neal told BusinessWest that, as a result of this grant, future AIC nursing graduates will not only be on track to succeed in their career goals, but will share part of the responsibility of caring for millions of wounded veterans who will need some type of medical attention.

“The Affordable Care Act will create 32 million new healthcare customers,” he said. “And with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq coming to an end, caring for all of our returning wounded is going to be a great honor and a great commitment.”


— Elizabeth Taras

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