New Hi-Ed program offering higher degree for RNs

Nursing is in growing demand as the nation faces an aging population, especially in the fourth oldest state, Pennsylvania.

In Warren County, where the number of residents age 65 and older is nearly four percent higher than in the rest of the state, the trend is especially evident.

Starting this fall, registered nurses in the county will be able to work toward their bachelor’s degree in nursing close to home, and finish in half the time of normal.

Penn State Erie, the Behrend College, and the Warren-Forest Higher Education Council are partnering with Jamestown Community College to bring an accelerated RN-to-Bachelor of Science degree program to the area.

“We’ve partnered with them on programs and projects and as a result they contacted us,” Hi-Ed Executive Director Joan Stitzinger said. “We really felt that there was a market and a need here. It was just kind of a natural fit.”

According to Michelle Hartmann of Penn State Erie’s Office for Community and Workforce Programs, the accelerated program will consist of three semesters allowing students to finish in one year less than a typical RN to BS program.

“Curriculum is divided into phases that allow students to build upon previous knowledge as they progress,” Hartmann said. “Students spend only one day per week on campus and all course work is completed in three semesters. The program incorporates a blend of in-class, web-enhanced and online courses over seven-week sessions.”

Hartmann and Stitzinger agreed the goal is to provide an option close to students.

“A lot of our nurses graduate with two-year degrees and there isn’t really a local option to continue,” Stitzinger said. “This provides something close to home. It’s really just a great opportunity for our local nurses.”

“This allows students who are limited by location or employment a greater opportunity to participate,” Hartmann said.

According to a Penn State press release on the program, employment data shows demand for nurses with four-year degrees is increasing. The release cites a report published by the Institute of Medicine which recommends 80 percent of all nurses have a baccalaureate degree at minimum by 2020.

“Our healthcare system is complex and changing in ways that expand the role for nurses in a multitude of care settings,” Jo Anne Carrick, coordinator of the Behrend Nursing Program, said in the release. “Nurses will need additional education and skills to address these changes.”

Hartmann said the program aims to ensure nurses have plenty of help getting that additional training.

“Students receive extensive support including a mentor, computer assistance, tutoring and writing center services, access to Penn State’s course management system, an extensive library collection and online or in-person access to project staff and faculty members,” Hartmann said.

The program is only open to students who are graduates of an accredited school of nursing and who have an RN license.

“Somebody does have to have a two-year degree,” Stitzinger emphasized.