Heifer International HQ sold to health education group for dental and veterinary schools
Lyon College plans to open Arkansas’ first dental and veterinary schools at Heifer International’s Little Rock headquarters, which is being sold to a private Little Rock-based healthcare company.
The dental and veterinary schools of the Collegial Institute of Health Sciences of Lyon will occupy the top two floors of the establishment and could open as early as 2024-2025, depending on the approval process.
Heifer International will purchase a long-term lease for the top two floors from Little Rock-based OneHealth Education Group, which has signed a binding agreement to purchase the 94,000 square foot headquarters.
The announcement was made Thursday, May 19, at the headquarters, which sits on 28 acres in the East Village neighborhood of Little Rock. Terms of purchase were not disclosed. The file was signed on May 16.
OneHealth provides back-office structure, real estate, technology and educational support to healthcare entities. OneHealth founding partner Merritt Dake said the funding would come from philanthropic donations and fundraising options. Dr. Melissa Taverner, president of Lyon College, said funding is “still in development at this time”.
Taverner said at the press conference that class sizes will be determined largely by national accrediting agencies. She said the college will work with those agencies to determine the optimal number of students that can be trained effectively.
Taverner said courses in dentistry and veterinary medicine have never been offered in Arkansas. She said Arkansas students must get their education elsewhere and often stay in those places rather than returning to Arkansas to practice.
Arkansas ranked 50th in the United States – ahead of only Alabama – for the number of dentists per capita with 41.82 per 100,000 people in 2019, according to the National Library of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health. Arkansas is last in number of veterinarians and also pays them the highest salaries, according to veterinarians.org.
She noted that the campus will be located in central Arkansas in a federally designated Opportunity Zone in an area undergoing revitalization. She emphasized that Lyon College’s flagship campus will remain in Batesville and said educational opportunities in Little Rock will enhance the student experience there.
Taverner said the veterinary school should have an agricultural component because Arkansas is an agricultural state. Lyon College will work with accreditors to determine how to achieve this.
“I would say we don’t say no to anything, except maybe an elephant. I don’t know if we’d do an elephant so well,” she joked.
Lyon College is a private liberal arts college that educates between 550 and 600 students, down from its peak of 758 about 10 years ago. It is already adding graduate programs in teaching and education and planning programs in a few other areas. She said other schools are considering graduate programs because colleges face stressors including a “demographic cliff” and the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Our STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) results are ridiculous,” she said. “They are so good. Our medical school acceptance rate is more than double the national average, and has been for 20 years. So we have a STEM base that’s incredibly strong, so it’s a logical build of, ‘OK, we’re already really good at it. Let’s take what we know and exploit that in the next space. “
Hilary Haddigan, head of mission effectiveness at Heifer International, said the agency’s 165 employees in Little Rock have become accustomed to working remotely during the Covid-19 pandemic, and she has no no longer need so much space. The top two floors will be adjusted to be more collaborative and more connected to its hunger relief teams around the world. Heifer also operates the Heifer Ranch in Perryville.
She said employees “like the flexibility to come into the office or not, to have a collaboration space here, or to work from home to focus, and so we want to support their wish to continue that.”
Haddigan said Heifer executives wondered what they would do with the building when OneHealth approached them unsolicited and conversations began.
Dake said the three came together because “we were all having similar conversations about different elements and parts of this, and a mutual friend said, ‘Hey, you need to talk to each other. “”
Conversations are ongoing about what the campus looks like. Dake noted that synergies are possible between Heifer’s breeding-focused mission and the future veterinary school in Lyon.
Haddigan said Heifer is in a “financially strong position” with half a million US donors, but the need to alleviate hunger is great. She said the sale will allow Heifer to focus its resources more on its programs.
“We are releasing funds that we used to build this campus for programs that will provide long-term solutions and bring change to communities,” she said.