Bluefield, VA – With a centennial celebration on the horizon, the Bluefield University Board of Trustees set the stage for the next 100 years with a major decision to join the educational consortium of the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM) schools last March. On January 12, 2021, the agreement between the two institutions was finalized.
On March 19, 2020, President David Olive joined Gordon Grimes (’94), Bluefield University board of trustees chairman; and John Rocovich, VCOM board of directors chairman-treasurer-foundation chair to announce the historic decision. On January 12, 2021, President Olive joined Rocovich; Dr. Dixie Tooke-Rawlins, provost and president of VCOM; Chuck Swaha, vice president for finance and chief financial officer of VCOM; and Todd Asbury, Bluefield University board of trustees chairman to finalize the agreement between the two institutions with a presentation of certificates. VCOM is legally held by an educational foundation, the Harvey W. Peters Research Foundation and will do so for Bluefield University.
“In order for us to expand in healthcare, it is important to have partners like Bluefield University who we already partner with in our Master’s of Arts in Biomedical Sciences (MABS) degree program,” said Rocovich during the January 12 meeting. “We are looking forward to developing many more programs to create opportunities and serve the people in the area.”
During the March 2020 press conference Grimes highlighted external factors that raised concern such as the rising cost of education and frequent closures and/or mergers occurring between colleges and universities. Closures at sister institutions of Hiwasssee College and Cincinnati Christian University and a near closure of Sweet Briar College, were stark reminders to the Board of Trustees of the essential work of maintaining and growing enrollment, offering market-ready degrees, remaining soundly accredited, and staying financially viable.
“The landscape across higher education is rapidly changing,” added Grimes during the press conference last March.
In a forecast of future students from the Hechinger Report, it was cited the college-going population will drop up to 15% between 2025 – 2029, with continued declines thereafter due to population shifts and changes in the region and nation.
“Being aware of the changing landscape, the Board of Trustees has considered a proactive way to ensure Bluefield University’s future,” said Grimes. “We believe this is the right thing and the best thing that we can do to ensure a bright future for Bluefield University.”
VCOM was founded by Rocovich alongside his wife, Dr. Sue Ellen Rocovich, and others with the intent to bring the finest medical care and medical education to southwest Virginia in the early 2000s. VCOM was founded as a four-year osteopathic medical school offering the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree. VCOM’s mission is to prepare globally-minded, community-focused physicians to meet the needs of rural and medically underserved populations and promote research to improve human health.
“VCOM was created to meet the needs of those most in need,” added Rocovich. “VCOM is driving primary care providers into the market which is important to improving the quality of healthcare and healthcare outcomes. In rural southwest Virginia, we have a shortage and maldistribution of physicians.”
Rocovich continued that Bluefield University offers a chance to dramatically expand the healthcare offerings not only in Virginia but throughout the southeastern and Appalachian regions of the United States. Further, VCOM is committed to missionary medicine and proudly boasts that it is the only medical school in the nation to offer a dedicated medical mission opportunity to Central American countries, according to Rocovich.
“The mission of VCOM and Bluefield University align very closely,” expressed Rocovich. “The collaboration and partnership possibilities are endless as one family of schools.”
Along with maximizing the impact of current programs, the development of new programs with a primary focus on healthcare, will be a central task in this new endeavor. Rocovich cited that almost 20% of the nation’s gross domestic product is in the healthcare industry, yet one in ten graduates enter the healthcare field. Bluefield University will now have available the VCOM network of hospitals and partners. Understanding their needs, and realizing the needs of the region and nation, will drive the development of new badges, certificates, and degree programs.
Through this new level of partnership with VCOM, Dr. Olive shared that Bluefield University will remain a separate 501(c)(3) entity with all its assets and liabilities intact. The Christ-centered mission and covenant relationship with the Baptist General Association of Virginia (BGAV) will also continue. Alongside two new ex-officio members from the VCOM consortium, Mr. Rocovich as Chairman and VCOM President Dr. Dixie Tooke-Rawlins, the governing board will continue to direct the University’s future decisions in its own meetings. Non-governing boards at Bluefield University, such as the Alumni Association Board of Directors, President’s Advisory Council, and others will continue as they currently operate. The University will also receive capital funding to address maintenance needs for various facilities.
“I am eagerly anticipating the formative opportunities that lie ahead of us as we position ourselves to continue the next 100 years in fulfilling our mission,” expressed Dr. Olive.