In Alpena, a bold effort to graduate more high-level Michigan nurses
- Community colleges have sought for years to offer students a four-year nursing degree, a move fought by state universities
- Last summer, state leaders resolved the turf war by allowing schools to partner on four-year nursing degrees
- Alpena Community College and SVSU announced the first of those partnerships, as the state strives to produce more nurses
After years of attempts by Michigan community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees in nursing, Alpena Community College students will soon have a way to earn a more prestigious four-year nursing degree without leaving campus.
The community college and Saginaw Valley State University have launched a new partnership, thanks to funding made available in the most recent state budget. Under the budget deal, reached last summer, nursing students at state community colleges can earn a two-year associate degree in nursing and, in partnership with a Michigan university, continue their studies on site for a four-year bachelor's degree, a credential that is preferred by many health systems.
The partnership means a local Alpena student could stay home to receive a four-year nursing degree, rather than having to move or drive more than 140 miles south to the Saginaw Valley campus.
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Community colleges can receive at least $2 million in grant funding to administer these programs.
Michigan Community College Association President Brandy Johnson told Bridge that Alpena and SVSU are the first schools to formalize a partnership but she expects more community colleges to partner with four-year universities.
It’s a win for everyone, school leaders told Bridge Michigan. Two-and four-year colleges and universities are partnering instead of competing for nursing students, students will have more access to scholarship opportunities and local communities, particularly in rural areas, will be better able to keep nurses in the area to care for patients.
Supporters also hope such partnerships will produce more highly credentialed graduates in a state where many nurses and other healthcare workers left the profession during the pandemic.
Generally, a person can become a registered nurse after earning a two-year associate degree and passing a nursing exam. But employers often require or prefer applicants who have a four-year bachelor’s degree in nursing.
ACC Director of Nursing Kelli Leask told Bridge that a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) tends to provide nurses with more community health and leadership training. Additionally, bachelor-level training helps nurses further develop critical thinking skills, said Stacey Klump, coordinator of SVSU’s program to provide registered nurses additional training to receive their four-year credential.
A nurse with a bachelor’s degree can also expand their leadership skills in management and mentorship, said SVSU College of Health & Human Services Dean Marcia Ditmyer.
The schools expect the program to begin this fall.
For students just starting to pursue a nursing degree, Ditmyer said they would co-enroll in ACC and SVSU classes at the community college campus. This would allow some students to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in one to two semesters after earning their associate degree. (They would earn their first degree from ACC and their second from SVSU.)
With the partnership, community college students can also receive academic advising and other support services from SVSU.
Registered nurses in Alpena who are already licensed also can enroll to get their BSN. Leask said those courses could be in a hybrid setting or online. SVSU already offers a fully online RN to BSN program for working nurses who have already passed their nursing exams.
“Our goal is not to have Alpena nursing students come downstate,” Klump said. “Our goal is to provide this education here, conveniently in their hometown, in their area, so that they can continue to live and serve the population and communities in which they're from.”
Klump said when she works with practicing nurses and students in associate degree programs, the main challenges are “cost and time.”
“So we really feel that this grant can help with both, depending on the programs that the community college chooses to leverage with that letter of intent to the state. But scholarship money could be very substantial in terms of offering practicing nurses the ability to be able to afford that university-level education and further their career opportunities.”
Angela Murphy, 27, just graduated with her nursing degree from ACC and passed her nursing exams. Her schooling was affected by the pandemic and she also had a baby while in school.
“I want to be part of the first group of students that will benefit from this,” she told Bridge.
She is a registered nurse at MyMichigan Medical Center Alpena and is currently going through training in the inpatient rehab unit and will soon train in the intensive care unit. Ultimately, she wants to become a nurse practitioner.
“I just want to invite more people from the community to become nurses because, you know, the nurses that are already in the field are getting burned out. So I want really good workers next to me. And I recommend Alpena Community College because they will train them really good.”
Klump agrees. She said SVSU is impressed by how “proactive and persistent” the community college has been in trying to broaden bachelor-level training for local residents.
“Ultimately, all of this is to improve patient outcomes. And we want that in these rural communities.”
Expanding college access across Michigan
The state allocated $56 million for community colleges to partner with four-year institutions for nursing programs. They can partner with a Michigan public or private nonprofit university.
Michigan is also investing heavily into other college access programs. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has set a goal of having 60 percent of working age adults with a college degree or skills certificate by 2030. Currently, 49 percent of working age adults have a degree or certificate and the high school class of 2022 is enrolling in college at a lower rate than previous classes.
The state is also offering a new scholarship for the high school class of 2023 and beyond to attend a private training school, community college, 4-year public university or 4-year independent nonprofit university in Michigan.
For adults 25 and older who haven’t earned a degree yet, they can apply for the Michigan Reconnect program which pays for tuition at an in-district community college. Whitmer is also advocating that the state expand the program to people aged 21 and older.
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