Lehigh eyes new College of Health in 2021 at $100M cost

PHOTO/BRIAN PEDERSEN The parking lot behind Whitaker Lab at Lehigh University in Bethlehem’s South Side is where the university will build a College of Health as part of a major expansion plan. The building will sit at the corner of Asa Drive (left) and Webster Street (foreground).

In October 2016 Lehigh University President John Simon presented a sweeping expansion plan to the institution’s board of trustees.

“The Path to Prominence” is the Bethlehem university’s plan for growth, and not just for more students, faculty, buildings and courses. It is Lehigh’s opportunity to take stock; acknowledge what it does best and maximize that while educating more students in new areas.

“We asked ourselves how we want to grow, what are the areas of opportunity and how can we incorporate those areas with our desire to get into the world of health,” said Pat Farrell, provost and vice president for academic affairs. “This is our chance to combine these goals and direct the growth.”

Broadly, the plan intends to add 1,000 new undergraduate students and 500 graduate students, recruiting them from around the country (not only from the Northeast, where about 50 percent of the student body resides) to meet the university’s goals of raising its national profile. About 10 percent of all students are international, and Farrell anticipates that number will grow, too.

The expected 100 new faculty members will come from “everywhere” with a goal of maintaining the current 10-to-1 student-faculty ratio.


About half of these students and faculty will study and teach in the new College of Health, the university’s fifth college and a cornerstone of the Path to Prominence.

The remainder will join the existing four colleges (Arts and Sciences, Business and Economics, Education and Engineering and Applied Science).

Startup costs for personnel – approximately 50 new faculty, a dean and additional staff – also will be “significant,” according to Farrell.

“Ongoing costs will be similar to what we have now [in other fields],” he said. “Salaries vary from field to field, depending on competition.”


The cost to launch the College of Health is an estimated $100 million.

Architects from Wilson Associates in Boston are working on designs for a new building that will be home to the college. Its opening is tentatively scheduled for spring 2021.

The building, in South Side Bethlehem, will go up on the existing surface parking lot at the corner of Asa Drive and Webster Street, behind Whitaker Lab (which fronts East Packer Avenue).

A parking and transportation study is planned.


The College of Health will not provide a pre-med program, which already exists at Lehigh. Farrell says the college will focus on health care as well as health.

Extensive studies have been done at the university to examine the nature of the health field and where the opportunities are for Lehigh to make a difference and fill a niche.

Farrell stressed that final curriculum choices will be made when a dean and core faculty have been hired.


Farrell said the college will not focus on med school or traditional allied health professions such as nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy or the field of physician assistant.

“We will have two major areas of focus: where can Lehigh contribute to the health care system using its innovation and creativity to impact the way health care is delivered that generates value for all players in this complex system?” Farrell said.

“And we will look at the biological and social determinants of health. This means stepping back from health care and talking about health, overall.”


Farrell says a critical mission of the College of Health is research and how it can compete nationally and internationally for funding.

“We need people with vision to put their best ideas on the table,” he said. “We need to push the boundaries of knowledge in these fields and put them into practice.”

Both major areas of focus will rely on data analytics to answer questions that no single approach can answer and “could include genomics, epigenetics, environmental health and more,” he said. “The faculty will choose what to get into deeply and build bridges across narrow fields, as well. We will combine disparate topics to see how they interact.”


Farrell noted the challenge of funding.

“There is no pot of gold and no magic,” he said. “We will use all resources at our disposal, do some borrowing, get prospective donors excited and use internal resources.”

He said a capital campaign will begin within a year.


Farrell doesn’t expect student recruitment to be difficult.

“Students will understand how they can contribute to health when they graduate and get into their careers. They’ll be excited by the opportunity,” he said.

“The challenge may be getting the best faculty excited about coming. Some love the fact that there is a wide-open opportunity. For some, that’s unnerving. But I’m confident we can get the right people on board.”

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