- Associated Press - Thursday, February 27, 2014

PIKEVILLE, Ky. (AP) - The University of Pikeville plans to open a college of optometry, the first in Kentucky, starting with 60 students in 2016.

Media reported that Gov. Steve Beshear attended an announcement of the plan Wednesday in Pikeville. Beshear said the project will receive a $1.5 million grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission.

“We’re going to be your partner every step of the way to make sure this next step for UPike is as successful as all the other steps you’ve taken,” Beshear said, noting that improving the health of rural Kentuckians is a top priority.

“As more people access health care through Medicaid and other programs and as our population ages, the need for medical professionals, including quality optometrists, is expected to increase,” he said.

University President James Hurley said the university will build a new facility for the college. He says a feasibility student has been completed, and a search is underway for a dean.

“We will add 11,300 new optometrists by the year 2020 across the country and there is not enough supply at the current pace to keep up with that demand,” Hurley said. “This is a wonderful opportunity.”

The private university was founded in 1889 and has 1,282 undergraduate students and 467 graduate students. The university offers graduate programs in osteopathic medicine, business administration and sports management.

“It is up to us, the University of Pikeville to meet the comprehensive needs of Central Appalachia,” Hurley said. “That is our mission, that is our vision and that is what we are trying to do each day.”

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