DelTech to offer bachelor’s degree in nursing by 2017

Shown above are Delaware Tech Associate Nursing students using the college’s newest teaching lab. In January 2017, the school will become the fourth educational institution in Delaware to offer a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree program. (Submitted photo/Delaware Technical Community College)

Shown above are Delaware Tech Associate Nursing students using the college’s newest teaching lab. In January 2017, the school will become the fourth educational institution in Delaware to offer a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree program. (Submitted photo/Delaware Technical Community College)

DOVER — With an ever-increasing need for nursing staff and a growing demand for highly qualified health care professionals, the time came last spring for Delaware Technical Community College to evaluate how to better its nursing staff to meet the state’s needs.

“We took a hard look at the associate degree in nursing program and we currently offer and see what we could do to better meet our local employers’ needs,” said Delaware Tech President Mark Brainard.

It was April 2015 when Delaware Tech first explored adding a bachelor of science nursing program to its offerings. Dr. Brainard and an internal working group did extensive research not only with hospitals and health care facilities but with the governor’s office and Department of Labor, Board of Nursing and other organizations to develop a plan on paper to present to the Board of Trustees.

The move to add the bachelor’s degree credential was approved by the Board of Trustees in October and since, plans have been in the works to make the vision a reality by next year.

Over the past several months, the working group finally has developed the plan for the program,  which will be available to anyone who has earned their registered nurse certification.

“What you have is an aging workforce in the nursing field, and the boomer population that requires more and more access to health care, so you have this bubble nationally that’s found its way to Delaware,” Dr. Brainard said.

Booming demographic

Baby boomers began reaching age 65 in 2011 and since then, aging population has only increased. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, when baby boomers first entered their retirement years, there were 43.1 million Americans older than 65, but that number is expected to nearly double to 83.7 million by 2050. The 65-and-older population included about 13 percent of the U.S. population in 2010 but will top 20 percent by 2030.

The growing demographic can’t be blamed on baby boomers alone, though. People in developed nations also are living longer than ever.

The Census Bureau reports that in 1972, an American aged 65 could expect to live another 15.2 years, but someone who turned 65 in 2010 could expect to live another 19.1 years.

Even those living into their 80s are seeing longer life expectancies. In 1972, an 85-year-old was expected to have another 5.5 years but in 2010 an 85-year-old could expect to live another 6.5 years.

Delaware saw this trend approaching back in 2003 and invested funds into expanding Delaware Tech’s nursing program.

“Since then the program has increased by 135 percent. It was done so we’d be able to respond to the impending crisis the state may face and when you think about it in retrospect, although we had a very substantial increase in the size of the nursing program, our quality never suffered,” Dr. Brainard said.

In 2003, the school’s passage rate for the national licensure exam was at 91 percent and according to the most recent exam results, the passage rate remains at 91 percent.

It’s important for qualified young nurses to be entering the workforce, because a large portion of nurses are baby boomers themselves and are retiring or will retire soon.

According to the American Nurses Association, past age 50, RNs tend to transfer out of hospital settings which leaves many open jobs. So new nurses in Delaware and many of Delaware Tech’s associate-degree graduates are finding work at facilities like Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, Bayhealth and Christiana Care.

Demand for degree

All three hospitals now have Magnet status and therefore are required to have 80 percent of its front line nursing staff hold a bachelor of science in nursing degree by 2020. Magnet status is an award given by the American Nurses’ Credentialing Center, an affiliate of the American Nurses Association, to hospitals that satisfy a set of criteria designed to measure the strength and quality of their nursing.

“The workforce is changing to the extent that this upcoming generation of nursing staff is preferred to have a BSN,” Dr. Brainard said. “The mission of Delaware Tech, like all community colleges, is to train a high quality workforce for local employers and industries. So this is the kind of things we’re always looking at — workforce trends and workforce needs and sometimes we need to anticipate these changes.”

Due to the requirements of Magnet status, many practicing RNs will need to go back to school to earn their bachelor of science degree so the Delaware Tech program will be a good opportunity for existing nurses and those who passed through Delaware Tech’s associate-degree program alike.
The program will be run online and can be completed in four semesters for full-time students but it can also be done part time too, making it an ideal program for RNs working full time.

The online classes will be administered by existing Delaware Tech nursing educators. And the instructors at each campus’ nursing program have spent a career in the nursing field before coming to teach at the school so the students will be in experienced hands. But it isn’t only the instructors that have real-world experience in their area.

“There has been a lot of expertise at the table as we’ve developed the BSN program,” Dr. Brainard said. “The senior leadership at the highest level at Delaware Tech has nursing experts helping us navigate this transition from the ADN into the BSN world.”

Next step

The detailed outline of the bachelor of science nursing program will be presented to the Board of Trustees in a few weeks and contingent of its approval, Delaware Tech expects to accept its first class of students in the program in January 2017.

The opening of the program will make Delaware Tech the fourth collegiate institution offering a bachelor of science in nursing degree in the state.

Upon Delaware Tech’s exploration of a bachelor’s program last spring, Dr. Brainard conferred with the presidents of the University of Delaware, Wesley College and Wilmington University about joining them in offering a bachelor’s degree.

“They all basically said, ‘we understand and expected this because you do have to be sensitive to the needs of the workforce,’” he said.

Assuming the bachelor’s plan is approved by the Board of Trustees later this month, in January of 2017, Delaware Tech will become the 31st community college in 11 states to offer the program.

Although the bachelor’s program is a Delaware Tech program, it will not be covered by the 2005-implemented SEED program because the associate-degree program must be completed before the pursuit of a bachelor’s degree can happen.

“But when you think of a high school graduate coming out of school and going straight into our two-year nursing program with a SEED scholarship, that can give them a significant jump start into a nursing career already,” Dr. Brainard said.

And for those who wish to seek their RN certification through the two-year ADN program, that will remain an option.

“We aren’t eliminating the ADN program, we are simply adding the BSN program as an additional track to better meet the needs of our community and the state,” Dr. Brainard said.

Reach staff writer Ashton Brown at abrown@newszap.com. Follow @AshtonReports on Twitter.

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