In 2009, Donald Weatherman, who wrote a weekly column for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette when he was a political science professor at Lyon College, returned to Batesville as the school’s president. A year later, Weatherman was among the college presidents who hired me to lead Arkansas Independent Colleges and Universities, the association of the state’s 11 private four-year colleges.

When I left that position in 2015, Weatherman was chair of the AICU Council of Presidents. I went to Batesville to inform him of my decision, dined with him and spent the night at the president’s house. Weatherman retired at the end of the 2016-17 school year and was replaced by Joseph King, who left last year after his comments about racial attitudes in the Batesville area upset civic leaders and commercial. King was replaced by Melissa Taverner.

It’s Taverner who leads a bold effort: a school of fewer than 700 undergraduates seeks to establish the state’s first dental and veterinary schools. This initiative was the subject of Sunday’s column. I’m biased since I worked for Lyon, but I think it will work.

Colleges and universities across the country are facing what is known as the enrollment cliff, a drop in the number of college-aged students. Taverner is counting on a shift in focus to graduate programs.

Earlier this year, Lyons announced a collaboration with White River Medical Center in Batesville to produce more nurses. Taverner says the partnerships with WRMC and OneHealth Education Group are “intentional efforts to continue to provide excellent undergraduate education at our central campus in Batesville while also expanding to offer graduate and professional programs in Little Rock and beyond”.

OneHealth has partnered with two of the nation’s leading education consulting firms, the Academy of Advancing Leadership (AAL) and the Animal Policy Group, to develop dental and veterinary schools.

AAL is an Atlanta-based company founded in 2005. The collaboration of education experts and academic leaders provides professional development and consulting services to individuals and organizations in healthcare and higher education. Its clients are universities, companies and associations.

Animal Policy Group works in the areas of animal health and welfare. It was founded by lawyer Mark Cushing, a former political strategist, government regulatory adviser and business executive.

“The partnership between Lyon College and OneHealth will launch a community-based model of education and clinical care to meet Arkansas’ significant oral health needs,” said Karl Haden, president of AAL.

Little Rock attorney Perry Wilson, chairman of Lyon’s board of directors, said the establishment of dental and veterinary schools is “consistent with Lyon’s longstanding mission and will propel our state’s economic growth.” . Lyon’s bold move is already attracting national attention.

“The plans are ambitious for a college of modest size and wealth, and its leaders recognize they did not take the decision lightly,” wrote David Steele for Inside Higher Ed. “They say Arkansas desperately needs both professional schools and is losing students, including Lyon-educated undergraduates, to out-of-state dental and veterinary schools They have brought in a private equity group to help fund both initiatives.

“Arkansas needs vets and dentists. It’s 49th in the nation in vet-to-population ratio and 51st in access to dental care, according to the college’s announcement of its plans. The vets and dentists in the state are starting to retire, Taverner said, and there are no obvious sources of replacement coming in.”

Of Lyon graduates who applied to medical school over the past 10 years, 87% were accepted. Nearly 95% of all graduates were employed or studying within six months of graduation.

“We knew our programs were working,” Taverner told Steele. “The other part of the equation was ‘what are the needs?’ … We had very honest conversations about the future of higher education. We asked the hard questions instead of saying, “That would be a great direction to take.” From the start, we got it right. It’s a private-private partnership, and we’ve done our homework.

Andy Goodman, who holds my former job at AICU, describes Lyon’s partnership with OneHealth as “very innovative”.

“I’m not going to be careless and call it radical because it’s well thought out,” he says. “But it’s definitely very innovative. … It’s quite aggressive, but the need has been there for years. The industry really demanded it. Lyon also identified their need to develop professional programs. years of need for small and large animal veterinarians.We are an agricultural state.

Wes Ward, the state’s commissioner of agriculture, told Steele, “We’re thrilled for the Arkansas students. I hope this will give them the opportunity to get veterinary training in the state and will give them the opportunity to stay . . . was of the opinion that wherever you go to school, you tend to stay there.”

According to the state Department of Health, eight of 75 counties do not have a licensed veterinarian, and another 10 had only one as of 2020. There are 33 U.S. veterinary schools in 27 states.

Ten counties had nine or fewer dental professionals, including dentists, assistants and hygienists. The number of dental professionals in Arkansas fell 3.5% last year. There are 70 dental schools in 36 states.


Editor Rex Nelson’s column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He is also the author of the Southern Fried blog at rexnelsonsouthernfried.com.