Penn College Considers New Nursing Degree

Published 06.24.2004


Pennsylvania College of Technology is exploring the merits of creating a new nursing major that would make more seats available for those interested in the career field and allow students to earn their degrees more quickly.

The College is conducting a needs assessment among local hospitals, nursing homes and home-health agencies to determine the demand for a four-year nursing major that would result in a bachelor-of-science degree. A decision to offer such a major has not been made.

Currently, the school offers a bachelor's degree in Nursing, but, for acceptance into the major, a student must be licensed as a registered nurse. The College also offers an associate-degree Nursing major that helps to prepare students to earn their registered nursing license and enter the bachelor-degree curriculum. Penn College offers a Practical Nursing certificate major, as well.

The state Board of Nursing requires a needs assessment before any new nursing-education programs are implemented. In addition to surveying the clinical nursing agencies to show that a community need would be met by creating the new academic major, the College is surveying other nursing programs in the area to ensure that services would not be duplicated. The College must then present the results of both assessments to the state Board of Nursing, which would decide whether to approve such a program.

The College is pursuing the needs assessment due to a request from Susquehanna Health System for four-year nursing graduates.

Hospitals nationwide have been struggling with nursing shortages.

"They're predicting it's going to increase over the next 10 years," said Pamela L. Starcher, director of nursing for Penn College. "The current nurse average age is over 45; the average age for nursing faculty is over 50. We don't have the young people coming out of degree programs as fast as we will be retiring."

She said the new degree program, if implemented, would attempt to prepare students to pursue graduate degrees, as well as to seek work in the field.

"We need nursing graduates both at the bedside and in education," Starcher said.

Still, according to Penn College's dean of health sciences, Dr. Deborah A. Wilson, many people want to enroll in the College's nursing majors. The College hopes that, if a program is approved, it will be able to accept more students who are interested in nursing careers.

"We have over 400 applicants total, and we don't have half that many seats," Dr. Wilson said.

A four-year bachelor-of-science-degree nursing program could be more attractive to recent high-school graduates, as well as to those entering nursing as a second career, who know they want a four-year degree.

Starcher said the College's current stepped program works well for most of the nontraditional students. In the registered nurse-to-bachelor-of-science Nursing program, many of the nurses are working and take courses part time to earn their bachelor's degrees.

The proposed four-year program would allow students to complete the entire major in eight semesters, rather than the 10 semesters that it sometimes takes with the current registered nurse-to-bachelor-of-science Nursing program.

Candace Dewar, vice president and chief nursing officer at Susquehanna Health System, notes that the System has enjoyed a unique partnership with the College over the years.

"It was enhanced in 2001," she said, "when we worked together to offer a loan forgiveness award program to help student nurses pay college expenses in exchange for a commitment of employment at any SHS hospital following graduation. This program has been extremely beneficial and has helped us minimize the current impact of the national nursing shortage at our hospitals. We are very pleased that the College is considering a four-year baccalaureate-degree program to complement its existing nursing programs. Many of our nursing leaders at the System have at least a baccalaureate degree."

The College's current nursing programs would remain intact.

For more information about programs offered by the School of Health Sciences at Penn College, call (570) 327-4519, send e-mail or visit on the Web.