April 26, 2004

Please note: Final approval is dependant that funding for the program be approved by the University Planning and Budget Committee (UPBAC).

By RON TSCHIDA, Bozeman Daily Chronicle Staff Writer, November 22, 2003

A new program in the works at Montana State University should help ease the state's nursing shortage and shorten a waiting list for prospective nursing students.

Montana's Board of Regents on Friday, Nov 21, 2003, authorized MSU to create an upper-division nursing program, opening 16 slots for juniors next fall. The following year, those students would be seniors and a second group of 16 juniors would be admitted. The program, which still must win approval from MSU's budget committee, also means that for the first time some nursing students at MSU won't have to relocate to other campuses to complete their four-year nursing degrees.

There's both a need and a demand for the program, said Jean Ballantyne, interim dean of nursing.

And while 16 extra nursing graduates may not seem like a big number, it will make an important difference, she said.

A recent report showed that nursing students are more likely than graduates of any other program to stay and work in Montana, she noted, with 68 percent remaining.

With 16 more nursing graduates, "That's 11 that are going to stay in Montana," Ballantyne said. "In rural hospitals, one nurse makes a difference."

The college of nursing is a multi-campus program, with locations in Bozeman, Billings, Missoula, Kalispell and Great Falls. All except Bozeman currently offer both lower- and upper-division nursing courses.

The multi-campus program had 400 applicants for about a total of 200 openings this year.

So the need and demand were clear.

But a third thing had to happen before this community could add upper-division classes.

Bozeman essentially grew into the program. The town's population has increased and Bozeman Deaconess Hospital has grown with it.

Now, health facilities here are sufficient to offer the variety of clinical experiences needed for juniors and seniors, Ballantyne said.

In fact, said Provost Dave Dooley, the program expansion here would not be possible, or would be substantially more costly, without the help of the hospital, which has offered facilities for faculty use, he said.

Even so, the program will cost about $200,000 on top of the tuition and fees paid by students, which will require reallocation of some MSU funds.

But Dooley said the provost's office is solidly behind the idea, and it will be presented "as a priority" budget amendment.

Ron Tschida is at rtschida@dailychronicle.com