Opinion

Nurturing a Key Part of the Workforce

Opinion

By John B. Cook and Ramon S. Torrecilha

At a time when the Institute of Medicine is pushing to increase the number of nurses with bachelor’s degrees by 80% nationwide by 2020, Springfield Technical Community College and Westfield State University are taking the lead with a recently announced partnership.

In Western Mass., nursing professionals with the Mass. Action Coalition (MAAC) are implementing the Massachusetts Nursing Workforce Development Plan. Their goal is to increase the percentage of nurses with bachelor degrees in Massachusetts to match the national goal of 80% by 2025.

In early October, after months of planning, our two sister public institutions made official the STCC-Westfield State University RN-to-BSN completion program. This accessible and affordable program will help fill the Massachusetts workforce with highly skilled nursing professionals.

Registered nurses who have obtained an associate’s degree from STCC’s accredited nursing program will then transition to the accredited Westfield State BSN (bachelor of science in nursing) program. Students will be guided by a streamlined, transfer-friendly ‘curriculum map.’ This ensures a student will maximize his or her time in transferable courses.

Aside from the benefit of helping to create a more highly educated workforce, the STCC and Westfield State partnership illustrates a shared commitment to nurturing this segment of the workforce. Not only will the program help to create more highly educated nurses in Massachusetts, it means countless benefits to the thousands of patients and families the future nurses will serve throughout their careers.

According to MAAC, the more than 143,000 nurses licensed in Massachusetts represent the largest segment of healthcare workers.

Graduates of the new STCC-Westfield State completion program will help MAAC as it works to increase the percentage of nurses with bachelor’s degrees. Enrollment in the STCC-Westfield State program begins in spring 2017.

The new program represents the type of program that both institutions seek to establish to fulfill their comparable high-access, low-cost missions. The partnership allows STCC and Westfield State to further put into action their mutual commitment to convenient pathways to accessible, affordable degrees. With a price tag of only $10,500, the RN-to-BSN program is the most cost effective in the area.

Massachusetts state colleges and universities are not necessarily lauded for their transfer-friendly articulation agreements, according to state Department of Higher Education Commissioner Carlos Santiago, who spoke at the Oct. 4 signing event to announce this new public-to-public partnership.

During the ceremony, Santiago also said nursing programs, in particular, are difficult to mesh, given the amount and caliber of requirements for nursing degrees. STCC and Westfield State’s partnership, however, breaks the mold and can serve as a model for other institutions to follow to ensure seamless transitions for nursing students seeking a bachelor of science in nursing degree.

The new partnership stands as the first hybrid RN-to-BSN, public-to-public completion program in Western Mass. Westfield State faculty will teach mostly online courses, but will be on site for select courses. Although taught by Westfield State faculty, the courses will be held on STCC’s campus, offering convenience and a familiar setting to the registered nurses with associate’s degrees from STCC who are eligible.

The program will allow students to transfer up to 90 course credits from STCC to Westfield State. Students will need to complete the last 30 credits for their bachelor’s degree, for a total of 120 credits.

Having both entered our presidencies within the past year, we see this program as the first of many innovative partnerships, as we collaborate to bring accessible and affordable education opportunities to the Western Mass. region.

 

John B. Cook is president of Springfield Technical Community College; he began his new role in August. Ramon S. Torrecilha is president of Westfield State University; he was appointed president in December 2015 and was officially invested earlier this month.

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