Southeast Missouri State Awarded MoExcels Funding to Partner with Saint Francis on Improving Educational Achievement Among Healthcare Workforce


Southeast Missouri State University received funding through the MoExcels Workforce Initiative to help boost the number of healthcare professionals in the workforce in rural southeast Missouri.

The Health Care Pathways Project will assist Saint Francis colleagues in identifying ways to advance or complete their education through prior learning assessments and enrollment in academic programs such as the RN to BSN and business and health administration/management programs and more. The goal is to help increase educational attainment among the healthcare labor force in rural southeast Missouri in an affordable, flexible and convenient manner to ensure an adequate supply of qualified healthcare employees.

“We are very pleased to partner with Saint Francis to help our local healthcare workforce advance or complete their education,” said Dr. Carlos Vargas, president of Southeast Missouri State University. “The shortage of skilled healthcare workers in southeast Missouri needed to treat our aging population is very concerning. Southeast Missouri State is very happy to play a role in opening doors and considering prior learning and professional training so Saint Francis can better attract individuals and offer advancement opportunities to those committed to providing quality patient care in this region.

“We are also excited about the potential for this project to serve as a model to enhance educational attainment for additional healthcare providers throughout the region,” Vargas said.

Ashley Seabaugh, director of training and development with Saint Francis, said, “We are excited about the opportunities that the Health Care Pathway Project will offer. We see it as a way for individuals interested in a career in healthcare, both in direct and non-direct patient care roles, to grow and develop needed skills that will help them gain employment and provide a path to advancement throughout their career. The idea that you can start out in an entry-level position as a nurse assistant and then continue with your education to earn a nursing degree and even a nurse practitioner degree down the road is exciting.”

While the primary focus is on increasing the number of registered nurses in the area, the program will help train individuals for positions in many other healthcare-related occupations.

The program is also designed to attract individuals from outside of the healthcare industry to fill open Saint Francis positions and retain them as they progress in their employment.

“Saint Francis hopes to be able to provide career development and advancement opportunities for our colleagues through these learning paths as well as recruit caring and compassionate individuals who believe in our Mission and are looking to start a career in healthcare,” Seabaugh said.

Southeast Missouri State has established a Health Care Pathways website at for additional information. Through this program, the application fee will be waived, and Saint Francis colleagues will receive a 5 percent tuition discount on its online programs.

The project is the result of a fiscal year 2020 budget request by the Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education for workforce initiatives targeting state and regional workforce needs. Southeast Missouri State was among several public colleges and universities that submitted proposals for funding to facilitate the development and expansion of employer-driven education and training programs and initiatives to increase educational attainment.

The $243,166 local project was among 19 projects totaling $18.9 million appropriated as line items to individual institutions such as Southeast Missouri State in the FY 2020 budget. The MoExcels Workforce Initiatives are designed to target state and regional workforce needs.

The funding will be used to hire a consultant to identify healthcare educational gaps as well as ways to bridge those gaps in order to provide the best possible educational experience.

The project will be implemented in phases with the first three to include a case study of Saint Francis Healthcare System, research on the challenges healthcare workers in this region face in advancing their education and a Prior Learning Assessment project to be piloted by the University.

To streamline the process, Southeast Missouri State has contracted with the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL), a nationally recognized company with expertise in portfolio assessment. CAEL will help train Southeast faculty members and academic advisors on evaluating not only the workforce experiences of Saint Francis colleagues but also individuals interested in career pathway programs. The goal is to apply their mastery of a given area through specialized training and experiences toward degree credit to help fulfill program competencies and progress towards degree completion.

A task force is being created with multiple healthcare organizations and educational institutes in the area.  The first meeting is next week. The fourth phase will include an analysis of the first three phases of work and the development of a three-year strategic plan.

In the final phase, the Southeast Missouri State plans to continue its efforts toward establishing workforce-aligned career pathways through ongoing work with Saint Francis and expanding its Prior Learning Assessment program, flexible learning approach and stackable, alternative credentials to positively impact other healthcare providers and industries in the southeast region, such as technology or education.