"Community colleges don't get a lot of attention and [if] you take it another notch further, rural schools get even less attention," Smith says. "We aren't in a media market. We aren't in a population center. The first step in making our case is letting the general public know what we are doing. So we are pleased that the administration is shining a spotlight on community colleges and rural community colleges in particular because we haven't had that before."
There are nearly 1,200 community colleges across the United States, and Smith says more than 60% of them are "rural serving." Those colleges will play a big part in educating the rural healthcare HIT workforce.
"Two-year colleges are really good at responding to the needs of the communities we serve. We are able to change and adapt our academic programs as needed," Smith says. "I don't know of a rural community college that is not actively participating with their local healthcare providers to make sure their needs are met. Without these rural community colleges, many of these allied healthcare professions and first responders and technical programs would not happen. We just would not have those professionals."
Not surprisingly, Smith says the big issue for rural community colleges is funding. "Finances are always an issue but it is not something that can't be overcome with partnerships. The local healthcare providers are very good at working with community colleges to share some of that cost," he says. "So that is an issue but most of the time if they need specific types of healthcare providers they usually step up to the plate and help their community college with the cost. That is happening now."