The University of Florida’s plan to expand its medical classes through a “hub” in Palm Coast’s Town center cleared its first hurdle this morning as a committee of the Florida University system’s Board of Governors unanimously approved the plan as presented by UNF President David Szymanski at a meeting in Orlando.
The university’s Palm Coast operation would partner with AdventHealth, Palm Coast government, Daytona State College and Allete Energy, a developer in town center, tying its own innovative curriculum with Town Center’s innovation district to channel nursing students into the workforce at nearby AdventHealth or other surrounding health care facilities.
The Board of Governors’ Strategic Planning Committee was meeting to review and approve what legislative budget requests would be forwarded to the full Board of Governors meeting later this month. Those requests would then be submitted to the Legislature for approval in the session early next year.
The university is asking for $12 million, or nearly half what its board of trustees had approved when the proposal emerged from the university board in late July, with $6 million in recurring costs and $6 million in non-recurring. The $12 million doesn’t include an additional $2 million “committed by City of Palm Coast and AdventHealth,” according to the plan submitted to the Board of Governors, though the Palm Coast City Council has not yet discussed the matter or approved a commitment. The initiative locally has been driven by Mayor Milissa Holland, who’s been pursuing a partnership with UNF for almost two years.
Audio: Listen to Szymanski’s Presentation
“So we’re excited,” a clearly enthusiastic Szymanski told the committee, “because when we talk to people, it truly is what can we do and how can we do this, and how can we partner, and how can we better partner. So it has this huge organic growth and it’s just a concept at this point in time, but we can work on it and implement it relatively quickly. But it’s exciting for us as an institution and I think it’s exciting for some of our communities.”
Szymanski got an equally enthusiastic response from governors who’d spent more than two hours until then listening to university president presentations. All were eager. None had the joyful verve of Szymanski’s.
“Thank you for your enthusiasm and forward thinking, vision and a way to solve that issue about having a medical school. I think this is fantastic,” the philanthropist Darlene Jordan, who chaired the meeting, said.
“Yes, thank you for enjoying it, too,” Governor Syd Kitson, a developer, said. “I don’t see anybody else in here with long faces, you’ve got a smile, this is awesome. I love it.” He said “matching the needs of Northeast Florida is just, just spot on, so great job, great thought process. Really love where you’re headed with this, with the entire concept of UNF MedNex.”
“Will the Palm Coast expansion require site approval by the board here?”
“Yeah, at some point in time, it’s a type three campus, but it’s not going to impact our sacs accreditation, so we will come back to you as we build this and get your approval–seek your approval,” he said.
The entire presentation and discussion of the item,. One of 12 such presentations by different university presidents, took eight minutes. But one of the two questions posed was about Palm Coast.
“Will the Palm Coast expansion require site approval by the board here?” Governor Wayne Huizenga Jr. asked
“It’s a Type Three campus,” the UNF president said, “so we will come back to you as we build this and get your approval–seek your approval.” That, in essence, will add another hurdle the project must clear in the coming year.
But the project’s first-year metric, or projected accomplishment, cites nursing students admitted at the Palm Coast campus. “The MedNex initiative will allow us to admit and graduate greater numbers of undergraduate nursing students in both of our Jacksonville and Palm Coast cohorts,” UNF said in response to written questions by the board. The program would produce some 70 registered nurses between Jacksonville and Palm Coast, according to the written responses, following the first graduating class. “Personnel (administrators, faculty, staff), classrooms, offices, computer lab, and simulation centers will all contribute to the production of registered nurses.”
UNF last year got a $10 million legislative appropriation, which it used to lower tuition costs, provide scholarships and hire more faculty in accounting, education, mental health, exercise science, and physical therapy, among other sectors. The question was how to innovate next.
“I don’t know if anybody else is but we’re having a really good time with our universities of distinction proposal,” Szymanski said. “It’s something we call the UNF MedNex. It’s kind of simple, began really with a Board of Trustees question to me as the president saying, you know, I think you guys could really use a med school. I’m going, I think I understand my Board of Governors–I don’t think that’s really going to happen. The chances are like slim and none. But it’s a really interesting problem, because we can do things in the health area outside of having a med school.”
He discussed the “huge workforce shortages” surrounding the health care landscape in northeast Florida and how to connect UNF’s programs in nursing, counseling and rehabilitation to those needs. “There’s an innovation economy that’s beginning to emerge in Jacksonville around health care and health care facilities and technology,” Szymanski said, describing the health care landscape as a real “hub” of health care facilities, “something that really can not only distinguish our region but distinguish our state from other states in the country, so it’s a pretty important priority for us.”
Scholarships are a significant component of the plan: UNF’s budget request projects devoting $2.8 million to scholarships. “It’s a full scholarship program is what we’re proposing, because we want to retain the talent within the state,” Szymanski said. “So a full scholarship program the understanding is you come and then you stay and you work. We can have unique partners, unique instruction.”