Pima Community College has increased the number of county residents it can assist financially to be trained in more than one dozen high-demand healthcare jobs.

Because the program has exceeded enrollment goals since it began in 2010, the federal government increased the funding for the third year of the grant to enroll 540 students, up from initial goals of 450-500 students. As of the end of September, 645 students had signed up for Pathways assistance – nearly 100 more students than anticipated. Pathways’ goal is to enroll a total of 1,750 to 2,000 students over the five-year life of the grant.

Pathways is a partnership between the College and Pima County OneStop to help Pima County residents earn degrees or certificates in 16 specialized medical fields. It is funded by an $18.5 million Health Profession Opportunity Grant (HPOG) from the Administration for Children & Families of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. The training targets recipients of federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and other low-income individuals, with the goal of filling jobs in healthcare professions that do not have enough qualified workers to fill all needed positions.

So far, 289 of the 645 Pathways participants have completed training in fields that range from home health aides and medical billers to paramedics and nursing assistants. A total of 154 of those participants have gotten jobs. The average entry level hourly wage for participants employed in the healthcare sector is $12.05. Compare that to Arizona’s minimum hourly wage of $7.65, which increases to $7.80 on Jan. 1.

Pathways staff works to train students to their highest earning potential, getting them training and a secure job, then supporting them through more Pathways training and ultimately a well-paying career. For example, a student first may earn a Nursing Assistant certificate, get a job in that field, then pursue Pathways’ Practical Nursing degree.

The length of training can be as short as the five-week Nursing Assistant training, or up to two or three years for any of the associate degree programs in areas such as Clinical Research Coordinator, Health Information Technology and Pharmacy Technology.

A key component of Pathways is academic and financial support services, which especially can help students during critical points. Research shows that a lack of support at critical points is the biggest barrier to completing a certificate or degree.

For example, by the end of September, 193 students had taken remedial or basic skills classes so that they could meet training prerequisites. Some of the most common things the program has paid for are books, clinical uniforms and supplies, and exam preparation and exam fees. It also often has paid for bus passes and eye glasses.

Support services, such as crisis planning or financial support for specific needs, help students identify challenges and barriers, and find resources to help them at school and in their personal life, said Brian Stewart, Pathways director who also serves as director of PCC’s Center for Training and Development.

The federal government also is studying how Pathways helps people increase their skills and find jobs. Individuals who are eligible for the program and agree to participate in the study will be selected into the program based on a lottery. Those individuals selected into the program receive support services designed to develop the skills necessary to become self-sufficient with a new healthcare career and may include the potential to receive assistance with tuition, fees and books.

Interested people start by attending one of the orientations, which are offered three times a week. Orientation sessions are held at PCC’s Desert Vista Campus, 5901 S. Calle Santa Cruz, and at OneStop’s Rio Nuevo Office, 340 N. Commerce Park Loop, Suite 100.

Anyone interested in enrolling in a Pathways program should call (520) 206-5250 for times and locations of upcoming information sessions.

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