TTU nursing program offers accelerated pilot program
Nineteen students are the start of a pilot effort at Tennessee Tech University for people with a four-year degree to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing.
The Whitson-Hester School of Nursing enrolled the students at the beginning of the summer. They will graduate together in December 2015, after 18 months of study.
“This faculty group truly pursues things for the right reasons. The accelerated option was the brainchild of the faculty,” said Bedelia Russell, interim dean of the Whitson-Hester School of Nursing. “In the last few years, we have seen an increase in applications of students who have completed a bachelor’s degree in another discipline and then made the decision to pursue nursing after being in the workforce.”
To help the students earn a degree in 18 months, the university is accepting general education credits from the degree they have already earned. That way, students are able to focus exclusively on developing the knowledge and skills they need to sit for the national licensure exam required to become a registered nurse.
“Our healthcare system is very complex and graduates from accelerated programs will give us new eyes on old problems,” Russell said. “We have a large group of nurses approaching retirement and we have a large group of traditional college-age graduates entering the workforce but between that and the nurses who are about to retire, there’s not a lot to bridge the gap.”
Across the nation, more nursing schools are offering accelerated degrees to help fight the national nursing shortage and add diversity to the nursing profession.
Students in the pilot program range in age from 22 to 46. They have a range of degrees, including business, foreign languages, music and education. Each of them interviewed with nursing faculty before they were accepted to the program to ensure they understood program expectations.
“It’s a very different group of students than faculty are used to and it’s very intense coursework,” Russell said. “As with our traditional BSN cohorts, our expectations are high.”
During the 8-week summer term, they took three courses, two labs and a clinical.
To help the accelerated group succeed, the program offers the same student success initiatives as with the traditional BSN cohorts, such as tutoring and test taking remediation, as well as opportunities for socialization to the professional and experiential learning.
As the program goes on, faculty members are conducting a continuous cycle of focus groups with the students to find out what works and what doesn’t. That way, the school will have the additional data it needs to apply for new program approval with the Tennessee Board of Regents and the Tennessee Higher Education Commission as well as seek additional program accreditation with the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.
One of the main indicators of the program’s success will be the number of students in the cohort who pass the national licensure exam on the first attempt. TTU’s nursing graduates traditionally have the highest pass rates of any program in the state and are among the top nationally. According to unofficial exam results, 98 percent of TTU’s May nursing graduates passed the exam.
Those success rates are one reason the Whitson-Hester School of Nursing’s ranks as one of the top five programs in the nation last year, according to CollegeAtlas.org. The rankings were based on a combination of affordability, quality academics, accessibility and pass rates.
“If our outcomes are good and we’re successful with this, we will go through the formal steps to make this a continual program offering for students with a prior bachelor’s degree,” Russell said. “What it helps do is meet a national initiative to diversify the workforce. IOt also provides new alternatives to increase access to BSN completion all while meeting the needs of the Complete College Tennessee act and its Drive to 55.”
Drive to 55 is Gov. Bill Haslam’s initiative to have 55 percent of the state’s residents earn a degree beyond a high school diploma by 2025 and part of the Complete College Tennessee Act asks universities to explore options to decrease the period of time to degree completion.