UNA Integrative health program still stagnant

Low enrollment and financial barriers continue to plague the up-and-coming integrative health program.

Officials said they expected a large number of students to enroll in the program during the fall 2014 semester, but that has not happened as of the spring semester’s start.

“There’s not a lot going on right now, but the program is not dead,” said Interim University President John Thornell. “The program is still viable.”

UNA entered a partnership with Chinese businessman Zhang Zhiting to help launch the integrative health program. With that partnership came the Zhang’s purchase of the Florence Golf and Country club.

Zhang purchased the property with hopes to build an integrative health facility, said Thomas Coates, chair of the Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, which houses the program.

“The chairman bought it,” Thornell said. “He didn’t consult us in terms of asking. He said, ‘I think that’s a good property.’”

University officials earlier anticipated Zhang would recruit a large number of Chinese students to enroll in the program.

“What we need is for people to enroll, and we have not had that,” Coates said. “At the current time we have one graduate student in the program.”

Officials said the program is geared toward Asian students because of the popularity of integrative health studies, such as non-traditional approaches to fitness, herbal treatment and acupuncture, in Asian countries.

There has been some student interest, but few applications to the program, Coates said.

Thornell also said the community and campus interest is valuable, but it is not likely to help program enrollment.

“The problem is the career path in the U.S. for integrative health is not clearly defined,” he said. “If we have to depend purely on the domestic students, we probably won’t have the student traffic to support the program.”

Zhang was last on campus in September 2014 to further discuss building plans for the facilities to be built at the Florence Golf and Country Club.

“My impression was he did not seem terribly comfortable with the cost estimates or the progress being made,” Thornell said.

Senior Vice Provost for International Affairs Chunsheng Zhang said he does not know if Zhang Zhiting will be able to send students from China to enroll.

“I think there are all kinds of challenges,” Chunsheng Zhang said. “The bottom line is this: we may design the best program, but if the students choose not to participate there’s nothing you can do.”

Thornell said the curriculum for the integrative health program has been approved by the Alabama Commission on Higher Education; now the goal is getting the students.

“I think the program is very solid academically,” Coates said. “I am excited about the potential for the program, but we need the numbers.”

The small integrative health field in the U.S. leads UNA officials to doubt to viability of the program if it has to solely rely on domestic students.

Assistant Professor Amy Zhang currently teaches integrative health on a one-year appointment.

“She taught two graduate courses last semester in integrative health,” Coates said. “We’re trying to gauge the interest of possibly some of the undergraduate students moving in that direction.”

He said the university does not want to hire a full-time faculty with the impression that his or her employment will continue if the program does not take off.