Col­lege’s pur­suit of bach­e­lor’s in nurs­ing gains sup­port­ers

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - AZIZA MUSA

Ozarka Col­lege wants to be heard.

The two-year col­lege with cam­puses scat­tered around north-cen­tral Arkansas first pro­posed to of­fer a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in nurs­ing in 2015 to ad­dress a nurs­ing short­age in the area. And it got so far as hav­ing the mat­ter placed on an agenda for an Arkansas Higher Education Co­or­di­nat­ing Board meet­ing.

But the state De­part­ment of Higher Education pulled it soon af­ter, say­ing the 1,147-stu­dent Melbourne-based com­mu­nity col­lege failed to show “suf­fi­cient de­mand” for the pro­gram, said de­part­ment Di­rec­tor Maria Markham, who took over the state agency in fall 2016, nearly a year af­ter the pro­posal.

That hasn’t stopped Ozarka Pres­i­dent Richard Dawe, though.

Dawe had planned to bring the pro­posal be­fore the Higher Education De­part­ment for a sec­ond time this month — in time for the co­or­di­nat­ing board’s quar­terly meet­ing. In­stead, he’s ly­ing in wait for a more op­por­tune time.

His plea comes as the state and the na­tion are fac­ing a nurs­ing short­age driven by in­creased need — baby boomers and nurses are ag­ing, and school en­roll­ment isn’t out­pac­ing de­mand, ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion of Col­leges of Nurs­ing. That’s in part be­cause there aren’t enough nurs­ing in­struc­tors, who must have a mas­ter’s de­gree or be en­rolled in a mas­ter’s de­gree pro­gram.

It also comes as the In­sti­tute of Medicine called for 80 per­cent of nurses — who spend the most time in de­liv­er­ing pa­tient care — to have bac­calau­re­ate de­grees by 2020. Nurses who have higher-level de­grees de­liver higher-qual­ity pri­mary care, data has shown.

Reg­is­tered nurses can earn the des­ig­na­tion through hos­pi­tal diploma pro­grams, as­so­ciate de­grees at com­mu­nity col­leges or bach­e­lor’s de­grees at uni­ver­si­ties, or by tak­ing an ac­cel­er­ated pro­gram to pur­sue a bach­e­lor of sci­ence de­gree in nurs­ing — also known as an “RN to BSN” de­gree pro­gram.

The per­cent­age of nurses whose high­est de­gree is an en­try-level hos­pi­tal diploma has dra­mat­i­cally low­ered from 54.7 per­cent in 1980 to 13.9 per­cent in 2008, ac­cord­ing to the Health Re­sources and Ser­vices Ad­min­is­tra­tion. Mean­while, the per­cent­age of reg­is­tered nurses with as­so­ciate de­grees has jumped from 17.9 per­cent in 1980 to 36.1 in 2008, and the per­cent­age of those with bach­e­lor’s de­grees has also in­creased from 22.3 per­cent to 36.8 per­cent dur­ing that same time pe­riod.

With his col­lege board’s back­ing, Dawe wants to cre­ate a cheaper op­tion for place­bound nurses and stu­dents in north-cen­tral Arkansas, he said. The plan would be to tar­get stu­dents who have grad­u­ated from Ozarka’s nurs­ing pro­gram and now work in lo­cal health care fa­cil­i­ties.

Stu­dents don’t want to travel the 90-mile, one-way trip to the clos­est uni­ver­sity, Arkansas State Uni­ver­sity in Jones­boro, and they don’t want to en­roll in an on­line-only pro­gram, Dawe said of a sur­vey he did of prospec­tive stu­dents and alumni.

Cur­rently, all of the state’s public uni­ver­si­ties have nurs­ing pro­grams. Many of­fer bach­e­lor’s de­grees in nurs­ing, but those are for tra­di­tional stu­dents who are not work­ing. Many — in­clud­ing ASU and the Uni­ver­sity of Cen­tral Arkansas — of­fer RN to BSN pro­grams fully on­line, while oth­ers, such as the Uni­ver­sity of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and Hen­der­son State Uni­ver­sity, of­fer in-per­son and Web­based pro­grams.

Ozarka’s pro­posal would make the school the only public com­mu­nity col­lege in the state of­fer­ing a bach­e­lor’s de­gree on site. Other two-year schools, such as Arkansas State Uni­ver­sity-Beebe, al­low for stu­dents to com­plete bach­e­lor’s de­grees on site via dis­tance tech­nol­ogy. The bach­e­lor’s de­grees are awarded through the four-year in­sti­tu­tion.

It would need ap­proval from the state and from the Higher Learn­ing Com­mis­sion, a re­gional ac­cred­it­ing body.

“All I ask is that [co­or­di­nat­ing board mem­bers] are al­lowed to make an in­formed judg­ment, an opin­ion,” Dawe said. “And what I would like when we do bring this be­fore them — with or with­out leg­isla­tive pres­sure of some sort — I’m go­ing to rec­om­mend that they try it as a three­year pi­lot. What’s the harm in that?”

He con­tin­ued, “Best case: it’s a seed for de­vel­op­ing a trans­for­ma­tive new means to cre­ate more de­greed peo­ple in Arkansas. Worst case: Hey, we tried it and we’re not go­ing to con­sider it in the near fu­ture.”

About 17 states have at least one com­mu­nity col­lege that con­fers bach­e­lor’s de­grees, ac­cord­ing to the Com­mu­nity Col­lege Bac­calau­re­ate As­so­ci­a­tion, which seeks to pro­mote bet­ter ac­cess to bac­calau­re­ate de­grees on twoyear col­lege cam­puses.

Arkansas law­mak­ers passed Act 971 of 1997, al­low­ing what was then Wes­tark Com­mu­nity Col­lege, as a “unique com­mu­nity col­lege,” to of­fer “se­lected” bach­e­lor’s de­grees. The law was de­signed to meet the de­mands of “the state’s largest man­u­fac­tur­ing cen­ter” in Fort Smith, it said. In 2002, when Wes­tark joined the Uni­ver­sity of Arkansas Sys­tem as the Uni­ver­sity of Arkansas at Fort Smith, it trans­formed into a four-year uni­ver­sity.

Na­tion­ally, most com­mu­nity col­leges con­fer­ring bach­e­lor’s de­grees are work­force-re­lated, or re­sponses to area in­dus­try needs, said as­so­ci­a­tion ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Beth Ha­gan. They don’t give up their com­mu­nity col­lege mis­sion, nor their two-year ap­proach, she said.

Of all the de­grees of­fered, nurs­ing “re­mains to be a prob­lem” be­cause both com­mu­nity col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties of­fer it, she said.

“That’s the one that has the great­est po­ten­tial for prof­itabil­ity in the last two years,” she said.

Ozarka’s plan is not to be­come a four-year uni­ver­sity, Dawe said, adding the plan has come un­der fire from the public uni­ver­si­ties, par­tic­u­larly the UA and Arkansas State sys­tems.

UA Sys­tem Pres­i­dent Don­ald Bob­bitt, who has re­cently clamped down on du­pli­cate on­line de­gree pro­gram of­fer­ings for schools in his sys­tem, said in a state­ment he does not sup­port Ozarka’s plan.

“I do not sup­port the du­pli­ca­tion of of­fer­ings at a time when so many other needs could more ef­fi­ciently be met,” he said. “We have lim­ited re­sources in our state for higher education and when stu­dents can eas­ily ben­e­fit from what al­ready ex­ists, it elim­i­nates the need to use funds to de­liver a rel­a­tively ex­pen­sive and staff-in­ten­sive de­gree pro­gram like nurs­ing.”

The ASU Sys­tem is not com­pletely op­posed to com­mu­nity col­leges con­fer­ring bach­e­lor’s de­grees, said Jeff Hank­ins, vice pres­i­dent for strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tions and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

“But they should be in very high de­mand fields in high de­mand ar­eas where a uni­ver­sity can­not part­ner or other­wise ac­com­mo­date the pro­gram,” he said. “We’re not sure how ef­fi­cient an ad­di­tional bac­calau­re­ate nurs­ing pro­gram would be for higher education or hos­pi­tals when many tra­di­tional and on­line pro­grams ex­ist for the en­tire spec­trum of nurse education.”

The north-cen­tral re­gion has more than 80 clin­ics for stu­dent nurses, and most — along­side the area hos­pi­tals — need nurses with bach­e­lor de­grees “in large num­bers,” Dawe said, adding nurs­ing is a sig­na­ture pro­gram for the col­lege.

The Arkansas State Board of Nurs­ing does not cur­rently track work­force data, said ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Sue Ted­ford, but it has cre­ated the Arkansas Cen­ter for Nurs­ing to do just that.

The reg­is­tered nurse work­force is pre­dicted to in­crease from 2.7 mil­lion in 2014 to 3.2 mil­lion in 2024, an in­crease of more than 18 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to Bureau of La­bor Sta­tis­tics data. The data also es­ti­mate the to­tal num­ber of job open­ings for nurses to be 1.09 mil­lion in 2024, a com­bi­na­tion of growth and re­place­ments for ag­ing nurses.

In 2014, agen­cies in the U.S. De­part­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices put out a re­port, “The Fu­ture of the Nurs­ing Work­force: Na­tional and State Level Pro­jec­tions 2012-2025.” It es­ti­mates in Arkansas in 2025, the sup­ply of reg­is­tered nurses will ex­ceed de­mand. But the agen­cies note that the data are sen­si­tive to en­roll­ment in train­ing pro­grams and eco­nomic con­di­tions.

The Higher Education De­part­ment came to the de­ci­sion that Ozarka did not present suf­fi­cient need for the pro­gram in 2015 af­ter dis­tribut­ing to em­ploy­ers a needs sur­vey. One ques­tion asked if on­line, week­end or evening cour­ses would be help­ful for em­ploy­ees, and many busi­nesses se­lected on­line de­liv­ery, the sur­veys show.

The sur­veys did not in­clude the tra­di­tional class­room method, Ozarka of­fi­cials have said.

But Ozarka’s pro­posal has gained sup­port­ers, in­clud­ing leg­is­la­tors and lead­ers of area hos­pi­tals and health care fa­cil­i­ties.

Gary Be­bow, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of the White River Health Sys­tem, said re­cruit­ment can be chal­leng­ing for ru­ral health care or­ga­ni­za­tions, but many Ozarka grad­u­ates seek em­ploy­ment with the sys­tem.

“[White River] em­ploy­ees pro­vide pa­tient care, and use their education and skills to im­prove their com­mu­ni­ties through vol­un­teerism and public ser­vice,” he said. “This im­proves the qual­ity of life for all res­i­dents.”

Un­der Ozarka’s pro­posal, the col­lege would ac­cept up to 20 reg­is­tered nurses per aca­demic year and would of­fer hy­brid cour­ses for $170 per credit hour. Col­lege of­fi­cials said the school would use about $10,000 more for firstyear sup­plies “to sup­port the pro­gram” and travel re­quire­ments, but it would not need any new “phys­i­cal re­sources” or per­son­nel.

“I’ve got plenty of fuel,” Dawe said of the pro­posal’s sup­port­ers. “I just need a spark. I’m just wait­ing for the right op­por­tu­nity to pro­ceed.”

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette

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