The University of Pikeville took another major step toward meeting the comprehensive educational needs of Central Appalachia, announcing today the creation of the Kentucky College of Optometry, the fourth college under the university banner.
Dr. James Hurley, who began his tenure as president in July, said the initiative, which reflects the university’s mission of service, is a continuation of “Vision 2020,” the institution’s strategic plan.
“Today’s announcement is a product of this bold vision,” said Hurley. “It was developed by faculty and staff, our trustees, alumni, community stakeholders, and most importantly, our students. Our board of trustees is fully committed to creating this opportunity for a new community of learners. UPIKE will provide the financial and human resources necessary to have one of the finest colleges of optometry in the nation.”
The American Optometric Association’s Accreditation Council on Optometric Education notified university officials last week that it had voted to designate the University of Pikeville-Kentucky College of Optometry as a “Stage One Applicant.”
UPIKE will be the 22nd school in the country to have a college of optometry. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for optometrists is expected to grow faster than average nationally, by 33 percent through 2020, adding more than 11,000 new positions. Health care reform and an aging population are also expected to impact the need.
During a press conference to announce the college, Gov. Beshear congratulated the university on its “monumental accomplishment.”
“For 124 years, this institution has been committed to enhancing the educational, cultural and economic opportunities for Appalachia through quality academic and continuing education programs,” said Beshear.
Improving the health of the people of Kentucky is a top priority, Beshear noted, including the provider network, especially in rural areas of the commonwealth. “As more people access health care through Medicaid and other programs and as our population ages, the need for medical professionals, including quality optometrists, is expected to increase.
With this new challenge and this new college, UPIKE will help meet that need.”
Beshear said the Kentucky College of Optometry would continue the momentum of the SOAR initiative (Shaping Our Appalachian Region), and similar projects designed to boost Eastern Kentucky’s economic development. He also announced $1.5 million in ARC grant funding for the new college.
“We’re going to be your partner every step of the way to make sure this next step for UPIKE is as successful as all the other steps you’ve taken,” Beshear said.
Echoing those sentiments in a taped message, Congressman Hal Rogers congratulated the university on its new endeavor.
“As you begin this impressive initiative, I want you to know that I’ll stand with you every step of the way,” said Rogers. “I pledge to help you through any federal hurdles you may face and support the optometry school any way I can. When someone has an innovative idea in Pikeville, the leaders of this community take notice bringing together your resources to accomplish a common goal.”
Hurley said a feasibility study has been completed and an advisory committee established to assist the university as it moves forward. A national search for a dean has begun. While UPIKE already has available many of the facilities necessary to accommodate the Kentucky College of Optometry, plans to build a new educational facility are under way. Sixty students will be admitted per class, for a total of 240. The university expects to welcome the first class in the fall of 2016.
“This institution has been a bright shining star for this region for more than a century,” said UPIKE board chairman Terry Dotson. “I’ve said this many times – it is the single most important thing that exists in Eastern Kentucky – and it’s more important today than it has ever been.”