Eileen Neville says the phone calls, the E-mails — and the actual applications — started rolling in before Springfield Technology Community College officially announced that it was planning to expand its nursing program.
That’s an indication of just how many people are looking to get into nursing today, and “how little room there is at the inns,” said Neville, dean of the college’s School of Nursing program, referring to the area’s various nursing programs. She told The Healthcare News that she leaked word to area hospitals and other health care providers that the school was considering an extension of its day program — and that’s all it took to generate strong interest in classes that would be conducted in the evening.
There was never a question that the school could easily fill the 32 slots that would become available, she said, adding that the question has always been whether it could obtain the funding to make the move. Now, the fragile state of the Commonwealth’s budget and Gov. Mitt Romney’s plans to restructure the higher education system have made that task even more challenging.
“We don’t actually have the green light for this yet, but we hope to get it soon,” she explained. “There is a critical need for more nursing slots, but we just don’t know if this is something we’re going to be able to do now.”
School of Thought
Neville said proposals to expand the school’s associate degree nursing program have been talked about for some time now. The motivation can be seen in the numbers: the school receives more than 400 applications each year and is able to accept only 64 students, a number predicated by the number of faculty members and available clinical slots at area hospitals.
Expanding the program requires the hiring of additional faculty to maintain the college’s faculty-student ratio of 8-1, said STCC President Andrew M. Scibelli, and it also requires commitments from area health care providers to accept the additional students into clinical programs.
Those bridges had essentially been crossed, said Neville, but the state’s budget woes have cast some doubt on whether the program can be in place for fall.
At issue are the college’s overall budget allotment, as well as the tuition rates for students in various programs. Getting the additional nursing program off the ground will cost about $200,000, she said, adding that the school does not want to proceed if it means passing huge tuition increases on to students in all nursing programs.
“The cost increases might seem reasonable when one considers that these people will have well-paying jobs waiting for them when they graduate,” she said. “But our students are generally adults putting themselves through school, and they’re working, on average, at least 20 hours per week.”
Stephen Keller, vice president for Academic Affairs at STCC, announced in early February that the new program could be added with a $125 increase in the nursing program fee for all students. However, the details of the Romney budget and its impact on colleges across the state system has yet to be determined.
Given the state of the nursing shortage nationwide, Neville expects that eventually, federal assistance will be in place for individuals looking to attend nursing school. “But that day is not here yet.”
If the STCC program is approved for this fall — and Neville said she will have to make a determination on whether to proceed by May 1 — 32 students will be attending classes between 5 and 7 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday, followed by lab hours from 7 to 9 p.m. Clinical hours will be Wednesday and Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m.
Those are very attractive hours to individuals with day jobs or young children, said Neville, who noted that the school has received nearly 100 inquiries about the program before it was conditionally approved at a January meeting of the college’s Board of Trustees. Those applying to the school are asked to list a preference, and many are vying for inclusion in the evening program, she said.
There are very few evening nursing programs in the region, and this would be the first in Western Mass., she said, adding that there are two in the Boston area, one popular program at the Community College of Rhode Island, and a recently added course of study at Mt. Wachusett Community College just outside Worcester.
The evening programs generally attract a different student population, she told The Healthcare News, adding the course of study is rigorous, and those who enroll understand that. “The success rate is generally higher because the students are motivated and they’re getting a chance to do something they simply wouldn’t be able to do during the day. They know it’s do or die.”
Course of Action
Neville is confident that the school will eventually get its expanded program off the ground, and she hopes that day will come this September.
“The sooner we can get it going, the sooner we can do more to ease the nursing shortage in this region and across the country,” she said. “The need is critical, and it must be addressed.”
If the Romney budget will allow it, the college will go about the task of creating some room at the inn.