NORMAL — A bill moving through the Illinois legislature would allow community colleges to award bachelor’s degrees in nursing after meeting certain criteria.
But opponents say such a move would weaken nursing education and not address the nursing shortage.
Although Heartland Community College is supporting the measure, administrators said they would not pursue such authority at this time. Among other reasons, they cited the good working relationship Heartland has with Illinois State University, which has a nursing school.
Senate Bill 888, sponsored by Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, contains several requirements that must be met before a community college could offer a bachelor’s degree in nursing.
They include documenting workforce needs, the availability of faculty for the program and being accredited.
“This isn’t some will-nilly handing out of authority,” said Manar. “They have to prove they have what it takes to run a program.”
No state dollars would go to the bachelor’s program under the measure so the school would have to be supported through tuition, fees and/or local tax dollars.
Judy Neubrander, dean of ISU’s Mennonite College of Nursing, called the proposal “costly, duplicative and unnecessary” when she testified against it in Springfield.
ISU has a program called Pathways, offered in partnership with Heartland and three other area community colleges, that enables students who receive an associate’s degree in nursing to finish their Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN) in one year at ISU through an online program.
Students can also enroll in ISU while still attending one of the partner colleges and “we will guarantee their seat,” said Neubrander.
Some employers require that a nurse be accepted in a BSN program before they will hire them, said Becky Lamont, Heartland’s dean of health and human services. Heartland students are “very aware” of that and some already are involved in the Pathways program.
“We’re in a good position to collaborate,” said LaMont, noting that schools in this area work well together, cooperating on such matters as sites for clinical experience.
But Manar said there is a shortage of nurses and access to nursing education in some rural areas and urban neighborhoods in Illinois. People in those areas are more connected to their local community colleges, he said.
Allowing a select number of community colleges to offer a BSN would open up opportunities to non-traditional students, including working parents and those with time and financial constraints, said Manar, who noted some states already allow this.
Victoria Folse, director and professor of nursing at Illinois Wesleyan University, questioned data used in writing SB 888.
“The misconception is that this will impact the nursing shortage,” said Folse.
However, she said, a shortage of nursing faculty is a key factor preventing existing programs from expanding. This would potentially make that worse, according to Folse and Neubrander.
Heartland President Rob Widmer said the school already has difficulty finding faculty with a master’s degree to teach in its nursing associate’s degree program and a bachelor’s degree program would probably need faculty with doctoral degrees.
“The second misconception is there aren’t seats available to complete a BSN,” said Folse. But each school with an associate-to-BSN program, such as ISU, said seats are available, according to Folse.
All 37 members of the Illinois Association of Colleges of Nursing — both private and public schools offering four-year nursing degrees — oppose the bill.
Manar dismissed their objections and said they need to explain “why they think their complete monopoly is good for the people of Illinois.”
The Senate Higher Education Committee approved SB 888 on a 7-6 vote in March. State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, was among those voting against it. No date is set for a vote by the full Senate.
Rose’s main objection is a lack of a comprehensive higher education plan that addresses what programs are offered where.
Noting the number of schools that are struggling with falling enrollment at the same time state funding is declining, Rose questioned adding more competing programs to “an already frayed and tattered system.”
But Manar said, “What we’re asking for is not going to put any university out of business.”
Follow Lenore Sobota on Twitter: @pg_sobota
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April 7, 2017 at 11:08PM