By David Lias
Many of the onlookers at Thursday's meeting of the South Dakota Board of Regents in Vermillion burst into applause in reaction to one of the board's decisions shortly before it adjourned for lunch.
Faculty and staff of USD's nursing program enthusiastically showed their support for the board's approval of a request for the university to begin offering a bachelor of science in nursing degree.
The program, however, is available only to those registered nurses who already hold a two-year degree.
"I think it is important to note that the university will continue to offer the A.S. (Associate of Science) in nursing program," said Jack Warner, the Regents' executive director and CEO, "and will honor the articulation agreement with Lake Area Tech. The essence of getting people to a RN (degree) will maintain itself at all of the places where USD currently offers this program.
"Nothing will change in that regard," he said. "What will change is there will be a new opportunity for those individuals who already have an A.S.N. (Associate of Science in Nursing) degree to find an easier path to get a B.S.N. (Bachelor of Science in Nursing)."
Warner urged the Regents to approve the change, even though B.S.N. programs are already offered at other state-run schools.
"You have heard me in the past talk about what I consider to be necessary duplication of programs versus unnecessary," he said. "Whenever there are job vacancy rates in an industry, when there are shortages of people to fill existing positions, I consider that it is a necessary duplication.
"In many cases, any given individual institution can't ramp up adequately to provide the supply of people needed to fill those vacancies," Warner said. "We also know those recipients who have received an A.S.N. from USD will find it much more convenient and easy for them to apply some of the credits they have earned along the way to the B.S.N. program. This will provide the most direct path for them to get this done."
Most courses in the newly-approved bachelor of science program will be offered online to current RNs who will pay full program costs through the existing self-support tuition rate. USD is expected to accept students starting in summer 2011, after approval from the state Board of Nursing. No new state resources or additional student fees were requested to implement the program.
"As a state, we are aging and so is the existing nursing workforce," said Regents President Terry Baloun. "We see a strong demand for additional nurses, especially those who will have the preparation and experience that comes with a four-year nursing degree."
Due to the direction of the nursing profession and the state's workforce needs, Regents became convinced of the program's viability, Baloun said.
"There is a long-term need for registered nurses, and those RNs who have graduated from the two-year nursing program need convenient access to a bachelor's degree in order to advance in their careers or be eligible for admission into graduate programs in the health care field," he said.
"The studies that I've seen nationally show that the shortages are even more acute in other places, particularly in the large population centers," Warner said. "Our graduates will be recruited around the country, and some of those offers will be very attractive."
USD's associate degree in nursing will continue with no changes, since it produces the majority of the system's two-year degrees and there will continue to be strong demand across South Dakota to hire entry-level nurses with an associate degree.
The long-standing B.S. degree in nursing at South Dakota State University will continue, as will SDSU's Upward Mobility program for RNs. USD also intends to continue its "one-plus-one" arrangement with Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown, so that Lake Area's licensed practical nursing graduates can complete courses for the USD associate degree in nursing and become registered nurses.