Webber International University Building New Health Sciences Center
To help increase the number of nurses and occupational therapy assistants with bachelor’s degrees in Polk County, Webber International University is building a new Health Sciences Center.
August 2023 is the scheduled completion date of the first phase of the center. This is just in time for the start of a new school year. It will house Webber’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing and Bachelor of Science in Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) programs. Both have already admitted students for the fall semester.
“This groundbreaking event, which marks the introduction of health sciences programs at Webber International University, is a milestone for the university, making Webber a change agent for the community by providing access to quality nursing and occupational therapy assistant programs that would lead to rewarding careers in healthcare,” said Dr. Marquez Nelson, Vice President of Institutional Effectiveness and Research and dean for the College of Health Professions and Sciences.
Planning for the center started in 2019 to help address the need for more practitioners in both areas. That need comes from Polk County’s burgeoning population, which estimates now put at 762,000, and, in particular, its growing senior population. Polk County has more than 160,000 people enrolled in Medicare.
Need for Healthcare Workers
A 2021 Florida Healthcare Association-commissioned report projects that Florida will need nearly 37,000 registered nurses (RNs) by 2035. The OTA field is projected to see 22% growth and more than 370 job openings annually. The mean annual wage in 2019 was $30.71.
According to Employ Florida, Polk County will have 4,788 RN positions open by 2028, an increased demand of 1.25%. OTA practitioners will have an increased demand of 3.25%.
Considered high-skill, high-wage jobs, both fields are part of the health sciences industry that Enterprise Florida Inc. (EFI) has targeted. The average annual wage for Education and Health Sciences was $54,353 in 2021, according to state data on Polk County.
“We are delighted to see Webber International University enter the health sciences field at such a critical time and in such a big way,” said Central Florida Development Council Senior Vice President and COO Lindsay Zimmerman. “Graduating students who are prepared to enter the high-skill, high-wage workforce benefits everyone.”
At the April 2023 groundbreaking for the new center, Senior Vice President of Operations Jay Culver said Webber identified the need for more healthcare workers a few years ago and launched its two programs. “Today we celebrate the next step in addressing the workforce’s needs. This is another opportunity for us to help our local community. It is also a chance to help our students enter the workforce with meaningful careers.”
Webber has been approved to admit 36 nursing students and 24 OTA students per cohort. If both programs are full and everyone graduates, the number of nurses and OTAs entering the workforce will be 72 and 48, respectively.
Webber was established in 1927 by Roger Babson and now offers associates, bachelor’s and master’s degrees to students in more than 50 countries. It has been recognized as a U.S. News and World Reports Best Regional Colleges in the South and a Princeton Review Best Southeastern College.