MARSHALL - Administrators at Southwest Minnesota State University are looking forward to the new Registered Nursing to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN) degree that will be offered at SMSU, beginning in the fall of 2013.
"I think everyone on campus is excited," SMSU interim President Ron Wood said. "We're pleased that it moved as quickly as it did. Some programs take a long time to develop, but really, we're set to move to a fall start."
After completing a regional needs assessment, a 10-person task force reported the 19-county region was indeed in need of a BSN degree for students to continue their education in nursing. Currently, Ridgewater College and Minnesota West Community and Technical College offer a two-year RN degree within the region, and those seeking a four-year BSN degree have been required to leave the region to further their education.
Task force chairwoman Jan Loft, interim dean of the College of Arts, Letters and Sciences at SMSU, said Wood commissioned the Southwest Marketing Advisory Center, asking the organization to verify if research indicated whether or not there was a need for such a program.
"In our application, we had to show a strong supply and demand," Loft said. "They developed great research that there was a need and a strong interest. We also collected letters of support from RNs and medical facilities across the region."
With tangible evidence in hand, SMSU chose to bridge the gap for nursing students looking to advance their careers.
"We looked at the region and found that Ridgewater and MnWest both have quality programs in place," Wood said. "They both graduate significant numbers of RNs or those who become RNs. The need is not there for the RN degree. But the opportunity to stay in our region and get that BSN and have more career opportunities is now available to them."
Along with the knowledge there was strong interest, a need and adequate supply and demand, Loft said the task force was encouraged by something else it learned along the way.
"We learned, coming from the American Medical Association (AMA) and organizations like that, that they want 80 percent of all RNs to have a BSN by 2020. They're encouraging nursing students to have a bachelor's degree now."
As with other professions, the higher the level of education a nursing student has, the more career opportunities exist.
"An RN out of a two-year program is generally a floor nurse or someone who works in a clinic," Wood said. "A BSN degree starts to prepare the base RN, as a floor supervisor, and also opens up opportunities to go into specialty nursing. As nursing students go forward, they tend to go more into the administrative side."
Loft said it was a year ago in August that Wood brought forth his ideas and initiative that he wanted investigated.
"He felt very strongly that the region had a need for an RN to BSN program," Loft said. "He commissioned me to start the task force and we ended up with a collection of 10 people who did tremendous work. It was comprised of some very dedicated and enthused people that had the courage to take this on as a challenge and come to a well thought-out conclusion."
Along with Loft, the task force consisted of six SMSU faculty members and three nursing professionals. There was one representative from ACMC, one from Avera and the nursing director from Minnesota West, Loft said.
Using data collected by the task force, Loft wrote the application to Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU), meeting the early June deadline.
"That is a major task," Loft said. "When you submit a new program, you have to be able to show to them a sample plan that would allow a student to complete a degree within a reasonable amount of time."
After being cleared from the 21-day review time, in which other MnSCU schools have a chance to read SMSU's plan and raise questions, the RN to BSN program was approved by the MnSCU system.
Once the courses in the program have begun, SMSU will apply for accreditation to the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.
Wood doesn't believe there will be an issue with meeting accreditation guidelines since the standards align with SMSU's vision as well.
"You have to demonstrate that you have a quality program, that students applying meet the requirements and that the faculty meets all the credentials of the program," Wood said. "We have to make sure we follow all their guidelines to meet their standard. That's what we'd want, too."
The RN to BSN degree requires 120 credits, 60 of which are transfer credits. Course delivery will include online courses and occasional on-campus classwork.
"There are large numbers of individuals who have gotten a two-year degree that would like to have the ability to pursue a four-year degree, to move up the career ladder," Wood said. "And since we'll have a lot of it online, it allows people the flexibility of not having to live here. They can take classes from somewhere else."
Loft said she also expects the degree to be popular, both for part-time and full-time students. Currently, the search is under way for a director of nursing at SMSU. Wood said that he's optimistic since applications have already started to come in.
"We've had ads out and the hiring committee formed," he said. "We hope to have someone in around the first of December. We want to have somebody here for the entire spring semester to gear up for the start of the program."
Wood said he's confident that the first class, which will be decided on in late February or early March, will max out. While RN level classes are usually accept students in blocks of 16, 24, 32 or 40 to do clinicals, he said, SMSU will look to accept 25-27 students into the first class.
"Almost every program has more applicants than they can handle, so unless we get a late start on our marketing, I think we'll probably fill the class," he said. "At the same time, if it's a big enough group, we'll also select a class for January (of 2014). My guess is we'll bring in a second faculty member for the January start."
After being admitted to SMSU, transfer credits will be evaluated. Student admittance into the program will be determined by the director of nursing.