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Free Tuition for Certified Nurse Aides

$2 million grant addressing rural healthcare workforce shortages benefits WCCC students

Western Colorado Community College and Western Colorado Area Health Education Center (WCAHEC) are working together to meet the healthcare needs of the region by covering the tuition costs for those interested in becoming certified nurse aides (CNAs).

Healthcare workforce shortages are prevalent across the country including rural communities like the Grand Valley. After hearing directly from leaders in the industry through the Mesa County Health Leadership Consortium, WCCC Vice President of Community College Affairs Brigitte Sündermann worked on finding a solution.

She found one, in the form a $2 million grant awarded to WCAHEC by the Federal Department of Labor.

“When industries have a need we answer the call,” said Sündermann. “We’re here to educate, train and prepare the workforce of tomorrow and we can’t do that if we’re not in constant conversation with the CEOs, business owners, directors, advisory committees and hiring managers in our community.” 

Knowing what industry experts are looking for is the bread and butter of Western Colorado Community College. It’s how they’re able to create a diverse set of pathways for individuals looking for all different types of professional development. This time around, it was a half a dozen healthcare-related companies who called Sündermann and told her they needed help and time was of the essence. 

She quickly put together a job fair on campus where WCCC students could meet employers in their field of interest, fill out an application and land a job then and there while still taking courses.

After learning there was an apprenticeship opportunity through WCAHEC, she worked closely with Georgia Hoaglund, the company’s executive director, and with the Mesa County Workforce Center to put a plan together.

“The good thing with this grant is we’re able to pay for the training and help people get started in healthcare plus help our facilities find more trained individuals,” said Hoaglund.

The grant not only addresses rural healthcare workforce shortages in communities across western Colorado, it also creates sustainable employment in healthcare occupations. WCAHEC has upwards of 40 employers registered as apprenticeship sites in Mesa and Delta County, which gives students a variety of employment opportunities.

“We’re always looking at how we can better serve our students and our community, and today we’re doing that by getting more CNAs trained at almost no cost to them. They’re getting the hands-on education they need and the company gets some added help. It’s really a remarkable partnership that helps the entire community,” said Sündermann.


Written by Kelsey Coleman