UChicago, UChicago Medicine and City Colleges of Chicago announce health care education partnership in Washington Park

Proposed labs, career pipeline programs would bring South Side neighborhood up to 600 jobs

The University of Chicago and UChicago Medicine joined City Colleges of Chicago on March 5 to announce plans for a joint project that would create new jobs and establish health care career pathways for South Side residents. The multifaceted project would be built on currently underutilized land on Garfield Boulevard, a historic Washington Park corridor.

The project, which has been guided by community input, includes two related elements. On a vacant parcel of land owned by the University of Chicago, UChicago Medicine plans to build a new facility that consolidates its existing clinical labs, modernizes their operations and maximizes lab test efficiency to ensure best-in-class care.

In the second part of the project, directly west of the proposed UChicago Medicine lab facility, City Colleges of Chicago would build a new learning center for Malcolm X College. The new facility would be built on land owned by the Chicago Transit Authority, immediately east of the Garfield Green Line station.

The connected projects would provide an on-ramp and clear pathway to careers in the health sciences for South Side residents, accelerating their ability to secure in-demand positions that pay well, are available at UChicago Medicine and other South Side hospitals, and are accessible with a one- to two-year degree. Together, the facilities would support approximately 600 jobs, including 200 newly created positions at UChicago Medicine. The Malcolm X College Learning Center in Washington Park will serve up to 800 students and establish the first clinical lab technician program in Chicago.

“The University of Chicago is thrilled to embark on this undertaking, in partnership with the City Colleges and our neighbors in Washington Park,” said University of Chicago President Paul Alivisatos. “Together, we will not only help address the immense unmet demand for health care professionals throughout the region, but through our efforts to educate, train, and employ individuals from our local communities, we are investing in the creation of a more robust service network that will elevate the collective health and wealth of us all.”

“As an academic health system, UChicago Medicine is committed to educating the next generation of health care workers,” said Mark Anderson, University of Chicago Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs. “Our plans in Washington Park will train and empower a more diverse workforce and support the growing clinical needs of our medical campus. We are proud to collaborate with City Colleges and look forward to working together to improve the lives of residents across Chicago’s South Side.”

The proposed Malcolm X Learning Center is part of a broader City Colleges plan to support more South Side residents interested in pursuing health care careers. City Colleges also will bring a full nursing pathway to Kennedy-King College in Englewood, which will include an associate degree in nursing and a licensed practical nursing program operated by Malcolm X College at KKC, and a basic nursing assistant program and general education courses operated by Kennedy-King College. 

“We are thrilled to expand access to City Colleges’ quality, affordable health care education and provide connections to in-demand health care careers for residents of the South Side,” said Chancellor Juan Salgado, City Colleges of Chicago. “Working with our partners at UChicago and UChicago Medicine, together we will create new economic opportunities and support healthy communities.”

“This health care pipeline expansion builds on a successful and strong relationship between City Colleges, the University of Chicago and UChicago Medicine that is already placing our students into upwardly mobile careers,” said Mayor Brandon Johnson. “I applaud the partnership and the investment on our great South Side that this project represents.”

Meeting local student and employer needs

The project will help meet the significant and growing demand from local employers who have contended with a shortage of qualified candidates for clinical lab technician roles in recent years. UChicago Medicine often struggles to hire qualified candidates for its clinical lab tech positions, with positions remaining vacant longer than other healthcare roles. The scarcity of qualified candidates is even greater for South Side safety net hospitals.

Each year, there are approximately 500 job openings for medical laboratory positions in Chicago, 1,000 in Illinois, and 25,000 across the country.

Earning an associate degree in a clinical lab tech program qualifies graduates for positions ranging in pay from $42,000 to $80,000—salaries that more than double the current median income of residents living within a half a mile of the Washington Park site. Salaries increase to $85,000 or more with a bachelor’s degree.   

The proximity to UChicago Medicine’s clinical labs will create experiential learning opportunities for Malcolm X College students and job prospects for future graduates. Students enrolled in the clinical lab tech program, for example, will get real-world experience through a clinical rotation at UChicago Medicine.

The Malcolm X College Learning Center would include classrooms, dry labs, office space, and retail space at the street level, as well as support approximately 50 full-time and part-time employees. 

The UChicago Medicine facility would support 550 jobs—including approximately 200 new positions—and help the hospital add critical lab capacity to meet the expanded diagnostic needs of a new cancer pavilion, expected to open in 2027.

Strengthening partnerships and pathways

The connected projects would build on a strong, existing partnership between UChicago Medicine and Malcolm X College. In 2016, UChicago Medicine partnered with Malcolm X College as founding members of the Chicagoland Healthcare Workforce Collaborative (CHWC), a consortium of leading health care employers, educators, funders and community-based organizations working together to address shared workforce challenges and meet the health care industry’s evolving needs. Over the past seven years, the collaboration has driven the development of several career pathway and pipeline programs between UChicago Medicine and Malcolm X College.

Additionally, each year UChicago Medicine hosts an average of 65 Malcolm X College students on its campus through clinical and non-clinical internships, practicums, and apprenticeships; engages more than 100 students through career development events; and hires an average of 120 graduates. 

Investing in a more vibrant Washington Park

The facilities proposed by UChicago and City Colleges will add a significant daytime population to the neighborhood that will support existing and new retail and restaurants on Garfield Boulevard and contribute to community vitality. Each of the facilities will include new ground floor retail space to provide opportunities for local businesses and serve residents, employees, and students, as well as other foot traffic stemming from the Garfield Green Line station. The project also includes a parking structure for students and employees.

Washington Park has suffered significant disinvestment and population loss over the past several decades. In 2021, Washington Park’s unemployment and poverty rates stood at 21 percent and 47 percent, respectively, compared with 10 and 17 percent citywide. Additionally, approximately 40 percent of land in Washington Park is currently vacant (66 of 164 total acres).

The new investments will complement UChicago’s previous Washington Park revitalization efforts, promoting growth at a critical transit point and potentially sparking additional assets in the area that align with community priorities.

Over the course of the past decade, UChicago has worked with Washington Park residents to reactivate several vacant spaces along East Garfield Boulevard from South Prairie Avenue to South Martin Luther King Drive in an effort to transform the block into a cultural destination. The proposed project would rise along that same stretch, just across Garfield.

Community assets UChicago has added during that time include the renovated Arts Incubator, the new Green Line Performing Arts Center, the historic Green Line station which now houses a retail space for South Side creative entrepreneurs, and, most recently, the Arts Lawn, which turned underutilized, vacant land into green space to be used for arts and culture-based programming and performances.

Guided by community input

In addition to a robust, ongoing community engagement process, UChicago and City Colleges looked to community plans Washington Park residents have contributed to over the past 15 years—such as the 2009 Washington Park Quality of Life Plan and the 2014 Green Health Neighborhoods plan—to guide initial project concepts. Residents prioritized workforce development opportunities, new jobs, revitalization of the Garfield corridor, additional retail establishments on key corridors, and utilization of Green Line stations for new development. The plans also welcomed additional partnerships with nearby employers and higher education institutions, especially those leading to stable, well-paid careers for residents. Current plans reflect each of those priorities.

The institutions’ community engagement process, to date, has included a Feb. 28 community meeting with Washington Park residents hosted by Alderman Pat Dowell and conversations with more than 20 Washington Park community leaders and elected officials.

Regular meetings will be held to share updates and seek community input on the project as it develops. In the coming months, additional information will be shared, including a more detailed site plan, initial renderings, and early thinking on the ground floor retail space. The next community meeting focused on the Washington Park facilities will be held in mid to late April.

The University and UChicago Medicine are intentional about creating opportunities for Chicago residents and minority and women business enterprise (M/WBE)-certified companies through construction and renovation projects. UChicago Medicine’s Washington Park facility will meet construction diversity goals of 35 percent minority-owned contractors and 6 percent women-owned contractors, with 30 percent of hours from minority journey workers and apprentices and 40 percent of hours from minority laborers. The City Colleges of Chicago project will meet its board-approved goals of 35 percent minority-owned contractors and 7 percent women-owned contractors.

—Adapted from a story that first published on the Office of Civic Engagement website.