Nursing Will Be First Baccalaureate Degree in 2014
Dr. Randy Pierce, president of Georgia Highlands College, announced at a May news conference at James D. Maddox Heritage Hall, the college’s health sciences building, that the Board of Regents had just approved a mission change making it a state college. Officially, GHC becomes a limited mission four-year institution. That means it will still serve as a point of access to higher education for those who might not otherwise be able to attend college. GHC does not plan to require SAT scores as an admissions requirement, except in its academically competitive programs such as nursing and dental hygiene.
The most immediate change will be the addition of a bachelor’s degree in nursing. If they choose, students in the 2011-2012 class will be able to continue at Georgia Highlands and earn a Bachelor of Science in nursing by the spring of 2014. “The nursing program at GHC has always been very competitive,” said Pierce. “Only one of every three qualified applicants is accepted into the program. That won’t change. But the convenience of being able to complete a baccalaureate-level degree at an institution with our reputation for excellence is a real bonus both for students and our community.”
Most nursing baccalaureates take four or five years. When students are accepted into the GHC program, they have already completed their core courses – English, history, mathematics and others that are required for a four-year degree. They have also completed a number of prerequisites such as anatomy, chemistry and microbiology. So they essentially enter the program as sophomores. An additional three years at Georgia Highlands will allow them to complete their bachelor’s degree, adding only one more year than their associate’s degree requires.
Before going to the Board of Regents with the request for a mission change and a plan for a B.S.N., officials at the college conducted a feasibility study to determine the interest and need for such a program. The numbers were overwhelmingly favorable. In addition to student focus groups, interviews were held with business, educational and community leaders to gauge the need for four-year degrees in the GHC service areas. In terms of students, cost factors were repeatedly cited as barriers to education. While Floyd County has two private colleges, they have tuition rates of $17,500 and $25,890 respectively, making the $2,000 tuition rate at Georgia Highlands extremely attractive. (GHC won’t be charging state college tuition rates for the first year or two.)
GHC also met with business, educational and community leaders to gauge the need for four-year degrees. These meetings focused on workforce needs. The Workforce Information and Analysis Division of the Georgia Department of labor identified nursing, education and business as the fastest growing occupational categories over the next decade, and community leaders agreed. Additionally, Georgia and the rest of the nation are facing a severe shortage of nurses. Georgia is the ninth most populated state in the United States, and is growing at more than the national average. As Baby Boomers age, they leave the workforce, leaving it even more vulnerable at a time when they also need greater health care services. By 2020, the USG expects the demand for nurses in the state to rise above 80,000; yet the expected nursing workforce supply will only be around 38,000. Thus, GHC chose nursing to become its first baccalaureate program.
In the future, early childhood education, middle-grades math and science education, business and criminal justice may also become four-year programs.