The university proposes opening the Center for Medical and Health Sciences by 2013.
Liberty University's plans to broaden its academic offerings into the increasingly popular health care arena, including opening a medical school, moved a step closer Thursday to securing a $12 million matching grant from the Virginia Tobacco Commission.
A committee of the commission voted Thursday to recommend the $12 million grant for the new Center for Medical and Health Sciences as part of a block of economic development projects.
"It's a project that has been worked on for more than a year now -- shovel ready to go, from a university that's established itself as a leader," said Del. Kathy Byron, R-Campbell County, a member of the Tobacco Commission.
The full commission will vote on whether to issue the grant Sept. 29, said Jerry Falwell, Liberty's president and chancellor.
The university has proposed opening the center by 2013. It would house a school of osteopathic medicine and a school of health sciences. Once fully operational, officials estimate that the center's scholars would represent about 15 percent of the students at the Lynchburg campus.
That includes an enrollment of more than 4,000 students by the fifth year of operation and a medical school with a class size between 40 and 50 students.
"It will be a major school, and we think it will be a signature school," Falwell said.
The center would include Liberty's nursing program but would add new options for master's degrees in nursing and nurse practitioner training. Additionally, it would add degrees in biomedical science, public health and various associates-level technical programs.
Falwell said the new center would cost "north of $40 million" to open and would be built in Campbell County near Lynchburg Regional Airport.
The university already has taken steps to move forward with its plans.
It is searching for a dean for the osteopathic school and could fill the spot before the end of the year, said Ron Godwin, the university's provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.
The plans for a new medical school, and an expansion of health science programs in general, comes at a time when several other area colleges also have focused on health care education.
The Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine has been growing since it opened its doors to its first class in Blacksburg in 2003. This year the college opened a second campus in Spartanburg, S.C.
Carilion Clinic also has been heavily involved in expanding educational programs for health care professions, both through its Jefferson College of Health Sciences and its partnership with Virginia Tech to establish the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, which opened last year in Roanoke.
Radford University also has made strides in offering new health science programs. And in Bristol, Tenn., King College is in the process of establishing a medical school. Last year, the proposed King School of Medicine and Health Sciences Center earned a $25 million grant from the Tobacco Commission, the largest sum ever awarded by the organization.
But leaders said there is room for everyone.
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SOURCE: The Roanoke Times