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May 20. 2014 6:40PM

Susan Huard: NH community colleges, universities are making better nursing degree

OF THE roughly 200 associates degree candidates marching at this year’s graduation today, more than 50 of them will graduate from Manchester Community College with an associate degree in Nursing. I have great confidence these new graduates will immediately enter the health care workforce. I say that not just because I am confident in the quality of our training programs at MCC, but also because the health care field is expanding rapidly, and demand is rising for more nurses in New Hampshire and throughout the region.

To accommodate the increased demand, and to ensure that graduates are prepared to meet the rising skill set needed for nurses, MCC and community colleges throughout New Hampshire are partnering up with four-year colleges such as Granite State University and Plymouth State University to help nurses take the next step from associate’s degree to a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

A recent report by the Institute of Medicine recommends increasing the proportion of nurses with bachelor degrees to 80 percent by 2020. In addition, the Affordable Care Act enrollment rate is proof that high-skilled and well-trained nurses are needed to meet the rising demand for health care in the U.S. The ACA is expected to result in increased nursing responsibilities, educational requirements and demand.

Experts believe we will see a 22 percent increase in RN demand over the next five years. That equates to an average of more than 550 nursing job openings per year in New Hampshire alone. As those in the workforce retire, as the ACA enrollment increases demand, and as the baby boomer population ages into retirement, we will need many more nurses than we have today.

Starting in January 2015, New Hampshire universities and community colleges will work together to streamline the process for nursing students to earn their bachelor’s degrees. Through online classes, through tuition aid and reduced fees, and through an unprecedented cooperation among schools, nursing students will be able to receive the level of training needed to meet this changing professional landscape.

The Community College System of New Hampshire trains a very high percentage of nursing graduates in our state. With this new partnership, this program will graduate approximately 600 nurses each year to meet New Hampshire’s demand and to meet a similar demand in neighboring states.

This is an exciting announcement. This partnership creates a quality pipeline of nurses who can step in and fill this skyrocketing demand. Our schools will increase bachelor’s and master’s degree capacity in nationally accredited programs for both students and existing registered nurses in the workforce.

By working together, we share the load of educating these students. Instead of competing for market share, we are combing the many assets in place around New Hampshire right now to offer an affordable path towards these degrees. We will leverage the staff, labs, students and administration that are already in place to keep costs down while increasing the number of skilled graduates. The people of New Hampshire expect us to offer these programs efficiently, and this new agreement allows us to accomplish that goal.

In working with the community colleges, the University System of New Hampshire has promised to provide on-site degree programs at any community college location. We are bringing the program to you. This agreement will allow for flexibility in registering for programs that will help both students and nurses looking to advance their education while working full time. We will make this program work for anyone seeking careers in nursing in New Hampshire.

It is hard to describe the pride felt on campus on graduation day. It is a day filled with pride, feelings of accomplishment, and feelings of hope that a degree received will quickly turn into an open door to a whole new career path. With this new announcement, graduation days will reach an even higher level of achievement. It’s the right thing to do. The health and well-being of New Hampshire depends on it.

Susan Huard is president of Manchester Community College.


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