KHI News Service

Agreement to help more nurses earn degrees from KU

By Mike Sherry | September 13, 2012

Education officials gathered at the University of Kansas Medical Center on Tuesday to mark a development that is expected to enhance the nursing corps throughout the state.

Leaders from KU and from 18 community colleges signed an agreement intended to make it easier for nurses with a two-year degree to earn a bachelor’s degree from the KU School of Nursing.

Karen Miller, dean of the KU School of Nursing (right), and Kathy Kottas, executive director of nursing and healthcare education at Barton Community College in Great Bend, signing an agreement Tuesday to facilitate the transition of community college nursing students to the University of Kansas School of Nursing.

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“I believe that this statewide model is a collaborative, progressive approach that helps meet the needs of Kansas nurses,” said Karen Miller, dean of the KU School of Nursing, addressing an audience of about 100 people.

Among those joining Miller was KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little.

“In the ever-changing health care environment it is imperative that we focus on increasing access to high quality healthcare,” Gray-Little said. “A highly educated health workforce leads to better patient outcomes and improved quality of life.”

The collaboration involves 17 community colleges in Kansas, plus Metropolitan Community College in Kansas City, Mo.

The agreement offers admission to KU to every student from the participating schools who attains an associate’s degree with at least a 2.5 GPA. The applicant must have also passed the licensure exam to become a registered nurse.

The last 30 hours of the program will be provided online.

KU and the community colleges have aligned their curricula to enable a smooth transition from the community college to the university, said Nelda Godfrey, KU nursing school’s associate dean for undergraduate studies.

KU has also dedicated one staff member to helping community college students navigate the admissions process at the university, Godfrey said.

The educators said that a 2010 report from the Institute of Medicine provided the blueprint for the collaboration.

One of the recommendations in the report was to increase the proportion of nurses in the U.S. with a bachelor's degree from 50 percent to 80 percent by 2020.

Godfrey said Kansas has about 43,000 registered nurses, about half of them have earned bachelor’s degrees in nursing or more advanced degrees.

The online component was a particular focus, Godfrey said, to make it as easy as possible for students to earn their degree from KU. By keeping them in their home community, she said, it provides for more highly trained nurses outside the metropolitan areas.

“We just peeled away as many barriers as we could,” Godfrey said. “We worked collaboratively with the deans and the presidents and said, ‘Hey, let’s make this an option that sounds good to everybody.’”

The new agreement got Veda King thinking back to her experience more than three decades ago when, armed with bachelor’s in nursing, she was teaching in Liberal at Seward County Community College Area Technical School.

“In my day,” she said, “it was not this easy.”

Back then, KU flew faculty to Liberal about once a week so teachers could work towards their master’s degrees. King is now director of nursing at the community college in Liberal.

Under the new initiative, she said, “We are trying to grow our own (nurses), and that really helps the patients.”

Students at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park are getting a boost in the program through a scholarship fund established by the Victor and Helen Regnier Charitable Foundation.

Sara Riedel of Olathe has already received a scholarship.

She is working part-time as a nurse at Olathe Medical Center, and she hopes to earn her bachelor’s degree in May.

The additional knowledge gained through more schooling is good for nurses, Riedel said.

“It just allows for a higher level of thinking within the profession,” she said.

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