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The Arizona Board of Regents has reported on its website that a program sponsored by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) is proving highly successful in easing the workforce crunch in the bioscience-related fields of dentistry, occupational therapy, optometry, osteopathy, physician assistant, and veterinary medicine. Demand for professionals in all of those fields is expected to see rapid growth over the next several years:
According to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, by the year 2018, the demand for practitioners in five of these fields is expected to grow nationwide by 20 percent or more. The exception is dentistry, which is expected to grow by 14-19 percent. Arizona’s demand for professional practitioners is expected to at least match, and more likely surpass, national rates.
The WICHE program enables Arizona students to pay in-state tuition rates for programs in the six fields noted above, which are not avaiable at Arizona's public universities. For each year that students benefit from the WICHE program, they must work for one year in Arizona, or repay half of the funds paid on their behalf. That incentive for studetns to return to Arizona has paid dividends:
The good news is that the vast majority of Arizona WICHE recipients - an average of 90 percent from 2005-09- do return to practice in Arizona, the highest return rate among WICHE states. That means that in these tough economic times, Arizona is helping fill a critical workforce need without having to build and maintain additional professional programs in Arizona.
Over the past five years, ABOR says that 295 Arizona students have participated in the program.