Proposal would fund nursing education

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Nursing schools in Southeast Missouri are positioning for the next major wave of students, and a state program is helping to set the stage.

On Tuesday Gov. Jay Nixon announced the state's public universities could receive an additional $3 million over the next three years to educate more nurses under a new proposal.

"By investing in nursing education, we are meeting a vital need for more qualified health professionals in Missouri, and we are helping students compete in a rapidly growing industry," Nixon said in a news release. "This is a strategic investment in the health of Missourians and the health of our economy."

The funding proposal, the governor said, would build on the success of 2009's Caring for Missourians initiative, a one-time investment of $40 million to increase the number of nurses, physicians and other health professionals being educated at Missouri's public colleges and universities. Colleges and universities developed individual plans for how they would invest their funds.

The state's public, four-year universities planned to increase the capacity of existing degree programs by 284 seats because of Caring for Missourians, according to the governor. Of that total, 203 seats were part of a one-time increase; 81 seats were added on a permanent basis.

Southeast Missouri State University's nursing program received $1.2 million through the initiative, and has started a second accelerated bachelor of science in nursing degree, said Marcia Hobbs, department chairwoman. The university also has increased the number of family nurse practitioner students, adding a total of 32 nursing students over the past couple of years. There are about 270 students enrolled in nursing programs, from undergraduates to online graduate students, at Southeast, Hobbs said, with 95 percent of graduates staying in the state.

The coming nursing boom, Hobbs said, is in a holding pattern right now.

"But once the economic situation is settled more people will be retiring and the nursing shortage situation will really show itself," she said. "Now nurses are working double jobs because husbands are laid off and the marketplace is a little tighter. I think the governor is thinking for the future."

The Board of Nursing has voted to award $1 million in grants each year in fiscal years 2012 through 2014 to hire faculty to sustain the enrollment increases at Missouri's four-year universities. Funds for the grants would come from the license fees nurses pay to the state. The legislature most approve the funding. The number of nursing students who could be educated under this initiative would depend on the universities' grant applications.

Staci Campbell, Advanced Health Care Simulation Lab coordinator at Three Rivers Community College, said the institution's nursing student numbers have grown dramatically, due in large part to $747,000 from another state grant program, the Training for Tomorrow Initiative. Enrollment, including the associate degree and the LPN to RN bridge program, has grown to 146 students, with 60 nursing students added with the addition of evening programs. Campbell said the school is always looking to build capacity.

"What we really need is nursing faculty," she said. "We can put the numbers in, but if we don't have faculty it doesn't really get you anywhere."

mkittle@semissourian.com

388-3627

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