Click here to watch the entire announcement.
Officials from Emory & Henry College and the Appalachian College of Optometry signed an agreement today signaling their intention to work together toward the development of a school of optometry in Grundy.
The agreement formalizes an effort to achieve accreditation for the school, which would be required before the school could begin admitting students. Pending accreditation, the name of the optometry school would be changed to reflect its function as a branch campus of Emory & Henry.
The school would be located in a three-story, 38,000-square-foot facility consisting of modern classrooms, seminar rooms and office space. The building originally was constructed as the founding educational campus of the Appalachian College of Pharmacy.
To date, $11.6 million has been dedicated to the project, including $6 million from the Buchanan County Board of Supervisors to cover operating costs during the initial phases of development and $5.6 million from the Coalfield Economic Development Authority for capital improvements of real estate, new construction and equipment purchases. The money from both groups is allocated by the Buchanan County Industrial Development Authority, which provided the initial leadership for the project.
By creating a school of optometry, officials with the two institutions hope to meet a large need both for education in the field and for accessible, quality eye care in the region. Currently, the two closest schools of optometry are the University of Alabama’s School of Optometry in Birmingham and The Ohio State University’s College of Optometry in Columbus.
“Both of these schools are relatively small, accepting approximately 40 to 65 students each year. That leaves a large geographic gap in providing optometry education for potential students in our region,” said Brian Looney, president of the Appalachian College of Optometry.
Optometry is a four-year doctorate degree. Some optometry students perform an optometric residency after graduation (typically a one-year residence program), while some will go directly into practice. Since the 1970s, the scope of practice for optometrists has increased dramatically to include the diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases, including glaucoma.
Individual states govern the practice of optometry. According to Looney, the most progressive laws governing the practice of optometry belong to Oklahoma and Kentucky, which allow properly trained optometrists to perform laser procedures that are limited to the practice of ophthalmology in other states.
“Kentucky's practice law gives us a unique opportunity to allow our students clinical education of laser protocol and procedures if we can develop a clinical operation in Kentucky, which is a short distance from Grundy,” Looney said.
According to a feasibility study, the proposed school would have an annual economic impact on the region of $11 million in its second year, which would grow to close to $30 million in year nine. By year two, the study estimates that the School would be responsible for 131 jobs, including 32 employees working directly for the school. That number would grow to 325 jobs in year nine, including 62 employees directly employed by the school.
“Emory & Henry is very enthusiastic about pursuing this opportunity,” said Jake Schrum, president of Emory & Henry. “Emory & Henry is a national leader in applying the resources of higher education to community development. Our goal is to become even more intentional and impactful in this regard. We feel that developing an optometry school very much enhances our proud history of service to our region by helping us meet a growing demand for better healthcare in Southwest Virginia.”
In recent months, Emory & Henry has advanced the notion that institutions of higher education have an opportunity and a responsibility to serve the nation beyond the education of students. The College has taken steps to demonstrate that it is a model for this new approach to higher education by pursuing a School of Health Sciences in Marion, Va., and by partnering with the Rensselaerville Institute out of New York for the purposes of dramatically expanding the College’s efforts toward economic and educational development in rural communities.
“At Emory & Henry we believe that we are educating minds to be not only adept at handling the challenges of a profession or a career but at applying creativity and energy to building better lives for everyone,” Schrum said. “This agreement today marks another step in the direction of showing how the vast resources of higher education can be put to work in the cause of improving the human condition.”