Feb 7, 2022 - News

Nonprofit provides financial boost to low-income health care students

Illustration of a graduation cap but the tassel is a ladder.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Springdale-based nonprofit Excellerate Foundation is working to give low-income and nontraditional students a leg up through its new program, Upskill NWA.

Why it matters: The program is designed to help fill jobs in health care, an area of increasing need in NWA.

  • The program gives financial assistance to people pursuing careers in fields such as nursing so they don't have to split time between a job and school and can finish faster, Jeff Webster, president and CEO of Excellerate Foundation, tells Axios.

Driving the news: The city of Springdale may give more than $2.8 million worth of American Rescue Plan Act money to Upskill NWA. The city council will vote on the matter Tuesday.

The big picture: Excellerate has plans in motion to help the Northwest Technical Institute construct a new building for students in medical programs and NorthWest Arkansas Community College expand its Washington County campus.

  • Of $15 million needed, Excellerate has committed $5 million. Washington County approved $2.9 million for the foundation, $1 million of which will go to infrastructure, and the rest of which will go to Upskill NWA.
  • If Springdale approves the money Tuesday, $2 million will go toward infrastructure, and the rest will go to programming.

State of play: Upskill NWA already has its first round of 100 participants, who must earn less than 80% of the area median income to be considered. The program may accept nonmedical students in the future, but right now the focus is the medical field.

How it works: Washington Regional, Mercy, Northwest Health, Arkansas Children's and Medical Associates of Northwest Arkansas have all agreed to pay for a third of the financial assistance for students who agree to work at their respective hospitals or clinics for at least two years, Webster says.

What they're saying: Washington Regional will hire more nurse educators in order to train the additional nursing students that are expected as a result of Upskill NWA, spokesperson Natalie Hardin tells Axios.

  • Upskill NWA will help the hospital fill positions including a registered nurse, nurse assistant, medical assistant, radiology tech, lab tech, pharmacy tech, surgical tech and respiratory tech, she says.

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