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May 23, 2008

Nursing Crisis Headlines IBHE Agenda

Experts to discuss closing supply-demand gap; Board to weigh fee for academic program review

SPRINGFIELD – Illinois needs nurses. 2,739 of them to be exact. Each year. For as far as the eye can see. That is the annual gap between the number of nurses produced by colleges and universities and the demand for nurses in hospitals, clinics, and doctors’ offices.

The fact of a nursing shortage in Illinois is no surprise to anyone; it is, in fact, a national problem. But the fact Illinois is attempting to attack the problem on a number of fronts is noteworthy enough for a panel of experts to brief the Illinois Board of Higher Education on strategies to alleviate the nursing shortage when the Board meets June 3 at the St. John’s College, School of Nursing in Springfield.

“We know that nursing shortages lead the list of critical skill gaps in Illinois,” Carrie J. Hightman, Chairwoman of the Board of Higher Education, said. “As our population ages and new discoveries prolong life expectancy, this chronic problem will become ever more acute. Higher education certainly plays a pivotal role in helping the state meet this challenge. We look forward to hearing from our panel of experts and practitioners on what is being done and what we can do to close this gap.”

Briefing Board members will be Bob Sheets from the state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity; Jeri Lynn Else, Manager of Strategic Healthcare Partnerships at the College of DuPage; Mary Pat Olson of the Metropolitan Chicago Healthcare Council; and Dr. Gayle Roux and Dr. Phyllis Ann Solari-Twadell from the Loyola University school of nursing.

Among the topics the panelists will discuss are:

  • The ongoing need to develop qualified applicants for nursing training by improving math and science skills of students in K-12 schools;
  • The need to improve access to nursing programs for underrepresented and place-bound students;
  • The urgent need to expand capacity at higher education institutions to train more nurses, an issue that relates to recruiting faculty to teach, expanding campus facilities to accommodate more students, and improving access to medical facilities for clinical experiences required of nursing candidates.

The Board of Higher Education administers two grant programs aimed at extending the capacity of institutions to train more nurses. The Nurse Educator Fellowship Program gives $10,000 stipends to 15 nursing faculty annually as a reward for exemplary performance and as an incentive to remain in the classroom. The Nursing School Grant Program is a competitive grant designed to expand capacity and improve performance at nursing schools.

Board members will act on a proposal to impose fees on Illinois for-profit institutions and all out-of-state institutions seeking approval for new academic programs. The Board has been flooded with applications from proprietary colleges and universities seeking to find a market niche in Illinois. The fees would not apply to public or non-for-profit independent institutions. Revenue from the fee would support additional professional staff and other resources needed to process and evaluate applications from proprietary and out-of-state institutions.

The Board also is scheduled to act on several grant programs, including:

  • Illinois Cooperative Work Study Program – $2 million to 53 colleges and universities. The grants will support work opportunities for an estimated 1,975 students at 730 businesses and not-for-profit organizations.
  • Innovation Grants – $4 million for 19 renewal and 6 new grant projects aimed at improving access and affordability, promoting P-20 cooperative efforts in teaching and learning, and encouraging degree completion and improving graduation rates.
  • Health Services Education Grant Act Program – $16.7 million to 59 private institutions and hospitals. These grants support institutions in meeting the high cost of health education programs and include $1.3 million in priority grants to nursing programs.
  • Diversifying Higher Education Faculty in Illinois Program – $2.4 million for 153 awards to minority graduate students. The program provides stipends of $20,000 to new fellows and $14,000 to continuing students to support their graduate study with the intent that, once the students have earned degrees, they will obtain faculty positions at Illinois institutions.

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