To meet the intensifying need for a diverse and inclusive health care workforce, the Foundation for Colorado Community Colleges has announced a $1 million gift from Kaiser Permanente to create the Kaiser Permanente Colorado Equity Scholarship Fund.
This 15-year endowed scholarship fund will provide financial assistance to Colorado community college students who are African American, Black, Asian American, Pacific Islander, Latino, Hispanic, Native American, LGBTQI, a person with a disability, or a U.S. veteran for the advancement of their education in the health care industry. The Colorado Community College System is the largest and most diverse provider of higher education in Colorado, serving more than 125,000 students each year on 38 campuses.
“Education can be the great equalizer, but only if all students have the same chance at success,” said Joe Garcia, chancellor of the Colorado Community College System. “With the establishment of this scholarship fund, Kaiser Permanente has made it clear that investing in equitable opportunity for community college students is critical to not only their success, but our state’s success as well. Now, our students with diverse perspectives and strengths will be able to achieve their goals and move into health care careers with fewer obstacles in their way.”
This $1 million investment from Kaiser Permanente is part of the organization’s economic opportunity strategy. These scholarships, alongside the national Kaiser Permanente Health Equity Scholars Program, aim to build healthier communities by helping students achieve their dreams of going to college.
Applications for the Kaiser Permanente Equity Scholarships in Colorado will open in 2022, with at least 28 scholarships set to be awarded each year. Students enrolled in a health sciences degree program at schools in the Colorado Community College System are eligible to apply. Scholarships will be awarded statewide, with a preference given to students from underrepresented populations who have demonstrated financial need.
Nearly half of all resident undergraduate students of color in Colorado are enrolled in degree programs at the state’s 13 community colleges. These colleges serve the fastest-growing populations of college students, including students of color, refugees, veterans, and first-generation college students, providing affordable and important education options for students to succeed in a 21st-century global economy. Colorado community colleges contribute more than $6 billion to Colorado’s economy each year, with 97% of students remaining in-state after graduation. Approximately 40% of all credentials awarded by Colorado community colleges are in the health sciences.
“Inclusive economic growth is imperative to both individual and community health,” said Mike Ramseier, regional president of Kaiser Permanente in Colorado. “Kaiser Permanente is proud to launch this scholarship fund in partnership with the Foundation for Colorado Community Colleges to create a more equitable pipeline to health care practice. By looking to the future and expanding access to education, we can model the way toward a health care system that reflects the diversity of our communities and prioritizes equal access to care.”
Developing a culturally competent, diverse health care workforce has myriad benefits. Studies show that increasing diversity in the field enhances patient and provider communication, increases patient trust, and helps eliminate bias in care delivery. It also has the potential to reduce longstanding health disparities experienced by vulnerable populations.
Health care is driving the nation’s employment growth. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 4 million new health care jobs will be created in the United States by 2026. At the same time, significant workforce shortages are looming in multiple areas, ranging from nursing to home health, and in both primary and specialty care practice.
According to Mary Spillane, board chair for the Foundation for Colorado Community Colleges, “A community college education not only changes lives, it changes entire communities. We are immensely grateful to Kaiser Permanente for its commitment to our students and their ability to reach their full potential. Through this scholarship fund, burdens will be eased and doors opened for the next generation of highly skilled, diverse health care workers.”
The state’s largest nonprofit health plan is committed to strengthening Colorado’s higher education system and supporting local communities to catalyze inclusive economic growth. This $1 million contribution is Kaiser Permanente’s latest pledge to the Foundation for Colorado Community Colleges, having announced more than $1.5 million in support for students enrolled at schools in the Colorado Community College System since 2013.
Throughout Kaiser Permanente’s 50-plus-year history in the state, equity, inclusion, and diversity have been inextricably linked to its mission. In 2020, in the midst of social unrest, Kaiser Permanente committed to taking immediate, long-term, and sustained actions to make equity possible for its people, members, and communities. Since May of 2020, Kaiser Permanente in Colorado also invested nearly $1 million to address the lack of economic opportunities in communities of color, increase virtual care options in underserved communities, and launch an educational campaign to increase vaccine confidence in people most affected by COVID-19.
This work builds upon Kaiser Permanente’s longstanding commitment to supporting the social, emotional, and health needs of its communities, with programs providing access to housing, food, and healthy living. Since 2010, Kaiser Permanente in Colorado has invested more than $1 billion and thousands of volunteer hours back into its communities to ensure all Coloradans thrive.