Bethel University is making plans to open a location in Cleveland.
Agreements are in the works for the university to offer classes out of the old First Tennessee Bank building on Raider Drive, the Cleveland Daily Banner has learned.
Bethel University is a private university in West Tennessee with six satellite campuses across the state and a heavy online presence, according to the school’s website.
Some of the classes reportedly would be designed to meet the training needs of Life Care Centers of America and would involve both online and on-ground studies.
Even before the ink is dry on the agreement, Cleveland State Community College President Dr. Bill Seymour is expressing concerns.
“I contacted Mr. (Beecher) Hunter, Life Care president, for some clarification on what the status was, and he recommended that I reach out and talk to the president of Bethel University,” Seymour said.
Bethel University President Walter Butler told Seymour the primary reason for the university coming to Cleveland would be to provide training for Life Care employees. However, Seymour said as a private college, it would not be limited to only specific classes.
“I understand the need and desire to train people for your business. But, immediately my concern is why do you not go to a local provider who already has the ability to do that?” Seymour said.
Seymour said it was his understanding that the university plans to make its programs open to the public.
“That is at a level that concerns me even more. I mean it’s one thing if the training was only for Life Care … but if they come in here and start offering whatever bachelor’s and master’s programs they have available, then that really changes the landscape of higher education in this community,” Seymour said.
The CSCC president also has concerns about Bethel’s intent to offer associates degrees.
Seymour has sent a letter to the Cleveland State Foundation board of trustees outlining the issues, as he sees them.
“I wanted to make sure that they were aware of my concerns,” Seymour said.
The Cleveland State president said any course that Life Care or any business in town would need is currently offered or could be offered at CSCC. He said the approval for the program would take about 90 days and could be approved at the next Tennessee Board of Regents meeting.
In April, Seymour met with Hunter and offered Cleveland State as a partner with the business to provide training programs.
Bethel is expected to focus initial efforts on facilities management and culinary arts, both likely to be associate degree programs.
In addition, Bethel reportedly is eyeing the opportunity to offer its nursing program and Masters in Business Administration.
Seymour said Cleveland State already offers a facilities management training program and has begun exploration into a culinary degree program.
He pointed out Cleveland State and Lee University already have RN and BSN programs, and Lee has a new MBA program. Seymour added that CSCC offers a number of workforce development programs and partners with local industry through its OneSource Workforce Readiness Center.
“I would love to have the opportunity to provide training programs for any company in our service area. I think that is part of our mission,” Seymour said.
CSCC has partnered with Wacker to provide testing space and services.
As late as Wednesday, Bethel University’s public relations office said the opportunity was being explored, but had not moved past that phase. The university’s president’s office could not be reached for comment by press time today.
In repeated calls to a Life Care representative, the Cleveland Daily Banner was told Life Care was not ready to make an official announcement. As of Thursday night, the individual had not received clearance to discuss the situation.
A fundraising event for the university featuring Oliver North was planned for Aug. 29 at Life Care Centers of America. The event would have served as a time to announce the agreement. The event has since been canceled because details of the agreement had not been finalized by mid-August. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools has not yet approved the university to offer classes in this area. Classes would not be anticipated to start before Fall 2015.
Another concern for Seymour in having another college in the area offering associate degrees is that Tennessee Promise scholarships allow a student to take the equivalent of community college tuition and go to a private school.
The proposed site for the university was the previous location of First Tennessee Bank and is owned by Cleveland Development Enterprises II LLC, whose registered agent is listed as Forrest L. Preston, Life Care chairman.