Educational partnership serves the greater good

By Ron Granger and Helen Drexler

Colorado’s community colleges play an essential role in meeting the workforce demands of Colorado’s businesses and helping students obtain good jobs.

Through innovative partnerships, Colorado Northwestern Community College and others have found ways to enhance and expand education and training programs in areas that are vital to our local communities and economy.

The latest example is a partnership with Delta Dental of Colorado, the state’s leading dental benefits provider, to enhance programs that educate dental hygiene students at CNCC and two other colleges in the Colorado Community College System.

The dental hygiene program is one of the most consistent programs at CNCC.  The students in this program are shining examples to other students because of their dedication, tenacity and hardworking attitude.

Through a $1.5 million endowment, each school can offer at least five scholarships to study dental hygiene, a career field that is high in demand in Colorado and vital to statewide efforts to expand access to quality oral health care. The endowment will fund state-of-the-art equipment so that students are well prepared for clinical settings when they graduate. Schools will be able to continue to attract and retain quality faculty through Delta Dental Professorships.

The money CNCC receives from Delta Dental will support students who demonstrate a commitment to serving underserved populations and rural communities.

Many of CNCC’s dental hygiene students are nontraditional and have families. Scholarships will help them be able to concentrate even more on their courses and not worry about how they will have to pay for the cost of the education and still provide for the family. 

This is important because dental hygienists play a vital role in expanding access to oral health care across Colorado. According to a 2014 report by the Colorado Health Institute, “Filling The Dental Gap,” there are just three practicing dentists serving Rio Blanco County’s 6,700 residents. And only one accepts Medicaid, leaving the county’s 1,230 Medicaid enrollees with extremely limited access to care. This is a common picture for many of Colorado’s rural areas. 

Regular preventive visits to a dental provider can help stave off serious chronic health issues and improve one’s overall quality of life. Did you know that 90 percent of all systemic diseases are linked to oral health? Or that the mouth can be an important early-warning detection system for more than 120 diseases? Diabetes, heart disease and leukemia are among the conditions that can be detected in your mouth.

Delta Dental of Colorado and the Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation have been leaders in advancing medical-dental integration across Colorado. Because of their efforts there are now dental hygienists placed in more than 16 medical clinics in rural and other underserved areas, including at the Marillac Clinic in Mesa County.

Supporting the education of future dental professionals who may one day help close the care gap across the state was a logical next step for Delta Dental.

Through creative partnerships like this, we believe we can make a tremendous impact in the lives of students and the communities they serve.

Ron Granger is president of Colorado Northwestern Community College. Helen Drexler is president and CEO of Delta Dental of Colorado.


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