Public colleges and universities throughout the state are using the funds to expand, revamp and start health-care programs. University presidents agreed to use the money to further the Caring for Missourians Initiative, advocated by Gov. Jay Nixon to increase the number of medical professionals statewide.
The money was appropriated to use for any one-time purpose. While state politicians warned that the money may not be available in the future, Southeast and other institutions are pressing on with their programs in support of the initiative.
"I think when you're given an opportunity, you have to do the best you can to fulfill that opportunity," said Dr. Marcia Hobbs, chair of the Department of Nursing at Southeast.
The university will use its $1,172,210 to start the accelerated nursing program, expand the family nurse practitioner program and renovate its simulation lab.
The accelerated program is open to students with a bachelor's degree in any field.
"I think it really fulfills a niche for people, and they don't have to go four years to do it," Hobbs said.
She said recent changes in the nursing curriculum will make it easier to adopt the program. Regular undergraduates now start taking their nursing classes during junior year and continue through the four semesters before graduation. Previously, students were admitted into the program out of high school and started taking nursing classes during the second semester of their freshman year.
In the fall, the first group of nursing students will start upper-level courses under the new arrangement, she said. With the change, the accelerated program will fit into the four-year program with few adjustments.
A group of 10 students will start the 18-month program in January and continue through the summer. Another group will not begin until fall of 2011, after the first group graduates, she said.
Hobbs said the money will be used to add a lab coordinator and a nurse practitioner to help teach the additional students. Six to eight professionals will also be added to help instruct at clinical sites, she said. The family nurse practitioner master's program will also add six spots to allow for 18 students.
Earlier this month, House Budget Committee chairman Allen Icet, R-Wildwood, and Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder called a news conference to stress the short-term availability of the funds. Icet said universities should not rely on future funding to continue their programs.
Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, expressed similar concerns in a letter to the editor in the Southeast Missourian. He also said universities should take steps to make sure students trained under the program stay in Missouri.
Hobbs said the majority of Southeast nurse and nurse practitioner graduates stay in the state.
"I think a lot of them have a good experience here, and that's why they stay," she said.
This spring, 17 of the program's 18 graduates stayed in Missouri. Last spring, 23 of 24 graduates stayed in the state. The numbers are based on the students who applied for their registered nurse license in Missouri, she said.
Other area colleges are using the money to expand the programs already in place.
Three Rivers Community College in Poplar Bluff, Mo., will receive more than $360,000 under the initiative. Three Rivers president Joe Rozman said the college will expand its nursing program to include 18 more students. He said the program currently has 120 students. To accommodate additional students at clinical sites, he said, the university will have to build relationships with more hospitals.
"If we get something like this going, who knows what else we can develop to sustain it," he said.
Mineral Area College in Park Hills, Mo., will receive more than $330,000. Mineral Area president Dr. Steven Kurtz said the money will fit into the college's 10-year capital plan. He said the college is planning a $7 million expansion project aimed at adding space for health-care programs, science labs and student service areas.
"I would be surprised if there were a community college out there that's not looking at expanding allied medical health," he said.
Once additional facilities are in place, he said, the school will look at expanding paramedic, nursing and radiologic technology programs. He said he is not concerned about the short-term funds because plans were already in motion to increase health-care training at the college.
"We'll plan around that," he said. "We'll work around funding from the state."
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