The Moberly Area Community College is evaluating the occupational therapy assistant program in the wake of changes made to the program consortium, which includes five Missouri community colleges and the University of Missouri. The program was evaluated at the MACC Board of Trustees work session Sept. 23.

The consortium includes, MACC, State Fair Community College, East Central College, North Central Missouri College, Three Rivers College and MU. Since the program first began in 2006, MU had been the fiscal agent of the consortium, meaning it was responsible for hiring the faculty and staff involved with the program and that benefits and pay would be handled by the university. That changed over the summer, however, when the consortium voted unanimously to change the fiscal agent to State Fair Community College, said MACC President Jeff Lashley.

“It just did not make sense for [MU] to continue to be the fiscal agent,” Lashley said. “It’s not a negative thing or a hostile departure… it’s just related to the way the program and the OTA discipline is potentially changing. Due to a bunch of variables, it made sense to change the fiscal agent.”

During the change over of fiscal agents, however, many of the programs faculty and staff left the OTA program, including the director Jacque Sample, which leaves filling those positions up to State Fair Community College. Due to the lack of faculty members in the program, the consortium elected to postpone its January 2020 class to next fall.

“Unfortunately, that wasn’t really welcomed by some of the faculty,” Dean of Health Sciences Michelle Frey said. “...We are currently at one faculty member.”

Despite having only one faculty member, students in the program are doing academic fieldwork this semester, which takes pressure off of the remaining faculty member, she said.

“They don’t have any other course work right now,” Lashley said. “So if there were a time where one person could handle it, this would be it.”

The consortium is still looking to fill the vacant director position. Interviews for the position will likely take place in the spring while the OTA classes are postponed, Frey said. An additional challenge for the consortium is finding a qualified candidate for the director spot. The director must have three years of experience as an occupational therapy assistant, a master’s degree and at least three years of teaching experience as a full-time faculty member. So far, only one candidate has met those standards, she said.

One of the outside concerns about the program is a saturation of the job market for occupation therapy assistants, especially in MACC’s service area, Frey said.

“We’re starting to get reports from graduates… having more difficulty trying to find a full-time position,” she said. “On Aug. 1, I did a job search. It only revealed seven open [OTA] jobs within 50 miles of Columbia. A lot of our students seem to want to stay in that area.”

An option that MACC has is to put the program on hold until there is enough need for OTA graduates in the job market, Lashley said.

“We could sit out for a year or two years, if we wanted to,” Lashley said. “It wouldn’t impact the accreditation or the consortium. We could still be a part of it. ...We would just choose not to have a cohort in a particular class. Whether we’ll have a cohort in the next class or not, we haven’t decided yet.”

The college could also move its cohort to another satellite campus, like Kirksville or Hannibal, where there may be more OTA positions for graduates, Lashely said. Since 2013, MACC has had its OTA cohort at its Columbia campus, so students would have better access to the university’s resources.

Despite the market saturation and faculty issues, the program has maintained a positive budget over the past five years. Lashley and the attended board member expressed their support for the program even with some issues yet to be resolved.

ecliburn@moberlymonitor.com