Thanks to the vision and work of an alert new employee, Southern Oregon University is about to embark on a new degree program that will mesh with the local economy and prepare graduates for immediate employment.

The Healthcare Administration program will launch winter term at SOU after the state Higher Education Coordinating Commission gave its approval last week.

Conceived by Craig Switzler, an SOU athletic trainer, the program incorporates courses already offered by various departments, including biology, communications, business and psychology. Switzler's idea was to train students to manage health care organizations rather than deliver patient care.

Local health care professionals were invited to help design the program so students would emerge with the right set of skills and knowledge to be employable.

The new program is ideally positioned for this area, because health care is the largest single industry in Jackson County by number of employees. And it's growing.

A regional economist with the state told the Ashland Innovators Conference last spring that physicians, dentists and therapists and their staffs have increased 76 percent in the past 15 years, while all industries grew 11 percent. All those clinics, offices and employees need to be managed, and people with the knowledge and ability to do that will be in high demand.

That growth in the local economy is a good reason to support continued health care coverage for all Americans, whether under the Affordable Care Act or some other model. Either way, SOU graduates will be prepared to participate.