Columbia Basin College planning 4-year nursing program

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 10, 2014 

Columbia Basin College Pasco

The Columbia Basin College campus in Pasco.

BOB BRAWDY/ — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

Ten years ago, a patient would seek medical attention for a single health issue.

Today, patients have multiple problems, said Mary Hoerner, Columbia Basin College's nursing program director.

This requires nurses to have a deep understanding of multiple diagnoses, good problem-solving skills and a solid grip on health policy.

That's why CBC is taking steps to offer a four-year bachelor of science in nursing degree, possibly beginning in fall 2016.

Details about the program, which would be based at the college's central Richland campus, are still being developed, including how many students it would handle and how many instructors would be needed.

It would be CBC's fourth four-year degree program and the second bachelor's level nursing program in the region after Washington State University Tri-Cities.

College officials said the program's current graduates receive high marks in the health care industry, but there's a clear need for more highly trained nurses, either as new graduates or as veterans who return to school to fill out their skill set.

"The people we take care of on a daily basis have multiple issues," Hoerner said. "It's not just looking at one picture and one diagnosis."

CBC has a two-year associate degree nursing program, as well as a one-year certificate program. There are just less than 100 nursing students at the college, with about 50 accepted each year.

"We have very little attrition," said college spokesman Frank Murray.

The college also offers bachelor of applied science degrees in applied management, project management and cybersecurity, with the latter two being made available in September.

The programs allow students with two-year associate degrees to earn a bachelor's degree with two more years of coursework, preparing them for management-level positions.

Student interest in the college's four-year degrees has been good, Murray said, with enrollment in the new project management program "going through the roof."

The new nursing degree would provide further education in community health and policy and patient care than the two-year program, CBC officials said.

A proposal for the program has already been submitted to the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, which oversees program quality, the demand for the programs and whether they compete with any nearby public four-year universities.

If approved, CBC would be the third community college in the state to offer a four-year nursing degree and the only one east of the Cascades.

The idea to offer a nursing bachelor's degree has been considered for years, said CBC President Rich Cummins. Studies looking at the country's future health care needs indicate that by 2020, registered nurses will need a four-year degree.

Most hospitals already prefer nursing graduates who have a bachelor's degree rather than an associate degree.

"We're already putting our students at a disadvantage," he said.

CBC's bachelor program would be comparable to WSU Tri-Cities' program, which only weeks ago opened a new nursing school facility blocks away from CBC's Richland campus.

Officials at both schools said they won't compete with each other, and WSU nursing officials said they support CBC's plan.

"Increasing the number of baccalaureate-prepared nurses in this region of the state will benefit community residents, health care employers and nursing professionals," said Allison Benjamin, a spokeswoman for WSU Nursing.

Cummins said CBC and WSU Tri-Cities also serve different student groups. The university typically educates students right out of high school. The college serves students who are older and need a more flexible school schedule because of work or family.

"A lot of these will be nurses who've been out there 10 to 15 years and they're coming back because their employers say they need to," Cummins said.

The college still has to take a lot of steps before the first students can enroll. In addition to receiving final approval from the state, the program's curriculum must be developed and a new faculty will be needed.

Finding qualified instructors could be difficult, Hoerner said, as there is a shortage of people qualified to teach in a baccalaureate-level nursing program.

But the increasing demand for highly trained nurses isn't going away anytime soon.

"There's just so much to take care of with today's patients," Hoerner said.

w Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald

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