University of Central Missouri: UCM’s Innovative Learn-As-You-Earn Certificate Program Honored By National Organization

The University of Central Missouri’s Center for Workforce and Professional Education recently captured national recognition for its learn-as-you-earn CNA (certified nursing assistant) partnership designed to fill critical healthcare positions. Through this innovative collaboration involving UCM, area funding organizations and healthcare facilities, the university provides adults with the training they need to launch a career in the high-demand healthcare field.

This program, which operates out of UCM’s Lee’s Summit campus, was among eight programs from across the nation recognized this spring by the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA). The university is also one of just two programs receiving an UPCEA Outstanding Program Award. UCM representatives will accept the Outstanding Program: Noncredit Award at UPCEA’s national conference during April in Orlando, Florida.

Qualifying adult learners are able to receive debt-free scholarships from the Full Employment Council, Truman Heartland Community Foundation and Community Services League for the CNA training. The healthcare facilities – Children’s Mercy Hospital, John Knox Village and University Health Lakewood Medical Center – provide each student with a benefits-eligible job throughout their training period. Close to 90 percent of the graduates have also been hired by the hospitals and care facilities where they complete their clinicals.

“Many of the students in these critical-needs programs do not have the resources to stop working while they pursue these certifications,” said Clarinda Dir, UCM Center for Workforce and Professional Development program manager who oversees the learn-as-you-earn CNA partnerships. “Thanks to the agreements with the healthcare facilities, the students earn a salary during their training period and are also offered a permanent job with the facility where they have trained.”

Through this program, the students launch rewarding careers in the growing healthcare field while healthcare facilities increase their talent pool for in-demand positions. Although UCM has partnered with the healthcare and scholarship organizations for several years, the learn-as-you-earn initiative began as a result of challenges faced during the pandemic.

“Due to COVID restrictions, the non-employees – including UCM students – were not able to enter the facilities for clinicals,” Dir said. “At the same time, the CNA pool was shrinking as healthcare needs continued to dramatically increase.”

To address this issue, UCM and the healthcare facility leaders developed a unique solution – pay the students a salary as healthcare assistants during their training program, Dir added.

“This program has greatly benefitted the students and the partnering organizations, creating a beneficial situation for all involved,” said Dr. Laurel Hogue, UCM vice provost for online and learning engagement. “We are especially grateful to both the healthcare and funding organizations who joined with UCM to create a model program that provides industry-recognized training and also fills critical needs in healthcare.”


Clarissa Kirk, a recent graduate who trained at John Knox Village, shared her thoughts about pursuing her career goals and becoming a CNA. “You owe it to yourselves to try,” she said. “You owe it to yourself to feel satisfied. You owe it to yourself to be happy, to enjoy life. You’re worth it. You should try something…something that makes you enjoy it. Something that makes you feel really, really good inside your soul, and just take the next step.”

Shelley Penn, senior vice president/chief operations officer from the Full Employment Council, added, “Learn-as-you-earn activities allow students to rapidly apply their skills while demonstrating proficiency on the job. It’s also a great opportunity for employers to participate in ‘try-out‘ employment. Learn-as-you-earn creates a win-win for both the students and employers.”

Leaders from the healthcare facilities have praised the UCM program for helping them better serve patients while providing the hospitals and long-term care centers with highly skilled employees who have also trained within their own facilities.

“From a nursing leadership perspective, we were so frustrated with having chronically open positions that we need to fill, but not enough qualified candidates to fill them,” said Becky Paulsen, PhD(c), RN, CPN, senior director of Medical/Surgical Services at Children’s Mercy Hospital.

An initial goal of the partnership was to break through the barriers that stand between these jobs and the people who want to fill them.

“Our students have a calling for working with older adults, and this program enables us to take that passion to the next level by creating home-grown talent who have completed a high-quality educational experience,” said Trisha Pepper, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, John Knox Village manager of recruitment/employment. “The best part is that immediately after training is completed, the new CNAs hit the ground running and continue to build on those already-established relationships with our residents.”

CNAs completing the program begin their new jobs with a clear understanding of the workplace and its requirements after training within each facility.

“Our students enter full-time positions well prepared to do the job immediately and know the environment they will work in,” said Lynette M. Wheeler, chief operating officer University Health Lakewood Medical Center. “This reduces the orientation time and associated expenses, and we know the level of training accomplished. This also benefits the residents as caregivers are prepared for the level of care and support on day one.”

UCM’s certification program includes three components: classroom training, clinical experience and Basic Life Support (CPR/AED) certification. Additional instruction emphasizes UCM’s CoreBuilders©️ Workplace Success Skills covering topics such as self-leadership, integrity, teamwork, communications, human behavior, goals, problem-solving and career management. More than 80 adult learners have participated in UCM’s learn-as-you-earn CNA program since the pandemic began with enrollment ongoing.

To learn more about UCM’s Center for Workforce and Professional Education, visit this webpage. Courses are offered in a number of high-demand areas such as healthcare, information technology, business and manufacturing/warehouse. Many programs can be completed in as little as six weeks with scholarship funding available for qualifying individuals.

Since 1953, UPCEA has recognized its members’ outstanding contributions to the association and the field, as well as their achievements in innovative programming, marketing and promotion, community development and services, research and publications and many other areas.



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