WCU trustees reinstate health program slated for budget cut curtailment

A low-enrollment, high-expense program in the School of Health Sciences previously slated for curtailment as part of Western Carolina University’s response to the North Carolina budget crisis instead will be temporarily placed in a holding pattern.

The WCU board of trustees unanimously agreed at its Sept. 4 meeting to withdraw its previous decision to discontinue the clinical laboratory sciences program, which was among the steps announced in March to help the university deal with decreases in state funding.

The original plan to curtail the program and redesign the curriculum to reduce costs and improve efficiency could result in the loss of accreditation of the program by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences, said Charles Worley, vice chair of the WCU board.

“If we forfeit accreditation, we would have to request reinstatement from the agency once we reintroduce the program, which can be a more complicated process,” Worley said. “If we place the program on abeyance, the agency will place our accreditation on hold.”

Representatives of Western Carolina’s College of Health and Human Sciences are in discussions with administrators from Western North Carolina community colleges and area hospitals to help redesign the clinical laboratory sciences program and develop a curriculum that is more relevant to today’s health care industry needs.

“Our plan is to reintroduce the program no later than the fall of 2011, with a substantial on-line component,” Linda Seestedt-Stanford, dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences, said after the trustees meeting. “We believe this program, properly designed, serves an important service role to our health care mission.”

Effective this past spring, new students are no longer being recruited into the program. Students currently in the program are being allowed to continue through completion of their studies.

In other action at the board meeting, the trustees unanimously agreed to continue purchasing electricity from Duke Energy for distribution to the university and its approximately 2,700 off-campus retail customers.

The utility company earlier this year notified WCU that it intends to terminate the contract through which it provides wholesale electric power to the university, effective March 31, 2010.

Duke has agreed to a 20-year contract extension with the university, an agreement that includes a proposed 16 percent annual rate increase for three consecutive years, Chuck Wooten, vice chancellor for administration and finance, told the board. The university is still negotiating the proposed rate hike with Duke, and has applied to the N.C. Utilities Commission for the authority to increase the rate WCU charges its retail customers, Wooten said.

The amount of the rate increase will depend upon the final rate increase set by Duke and the ruling of the state commission, he said.