WKU seeks new doctoral program

Tessa Duvall

When Tom Pennington was an undergraduate student at WKU about 30 years ago, he was told trying to get into the physical therapy program at the University of Kentucky would be a waste of his time.

At that time, UK was the only in-state school to offer a degree in physical therapy, he said. The university got about 800 to 900 applications annually, but only accepted 32 students.

Pennington was later accepted into and graduated from UK’s program and is now CEO of Integrity Rehab Group and the head of the physical therapy steering committee at WKU. He hopes to help improve today’s college students’ chances of getting into a physical therapy program.

WKU officials are working with state legislators to approve a doctor of physical therapy program.

In order to be a physical therapist, a student must now earn a doctoral degree in physical therapy, said John Bonaguro, dean of the College of Health and Human Services. There are currently only three schools in the state to offer such a program: UK, UK’s satellite campus in Hazard and Bellarmine University – none of which are in western Kentucky.

WKU must seek approval from the state when it wants to offer any doctoral program, as it has done in the past for the doctor of education in educational leadership and doctor of nursing practice, said Robbin Taylor, vice president for Public Affairs, via e-mail.

Representatives Jody Richards, Wilson Stone and Jim DeCesare will sponsor the bill in the House of Representatives, and senators David Givens and Mike Wilson will sponsor the legislation in the Senate, she said.

So far, WKU has raised $650,000 to fund the start-up costs for the program, and physical therapy providers from across the state have urged the university to pursue the degree to help remedy the shortage of practitioners, she said.

Taylor said the pursuit of approval for this degree is WKU’s only legislative priority in the upcoming session, but she said she’ll monitor all legislation that impacts higher education.

“This is not a budget session, so we don’t have the typical list of projects and budget items that we would in a budget year,” she said.

Bonaguro said bringing this program to WKU has been in the works for about four years.

The proposal will go in front of the state legislature in January, and if it’s approved, WKU plans to hire a director to begin work by July 2011, he said.

In the first year, the director will design the curriculum and hire faculty members, Bonaguro said.

WKU hopes to accept the first class of about 30 students in fall 2012, he said.

Pennington, who made a personal donation of $150,000, said he’s excited about the possibility of getting the program at WKU.

He’s said the area has needed this program for years.

“This literally will change lives for kids around the area that wouldn’t have the opportunity to go to physical therapy school,” he said.