ST. PETERSBURG — With advertisements everywhere from The New York Times to pseudo-news site Gawker, New York-based Utica College is betting big on its newest venture: a small-scale nursing program in St. Petersburg expected to net only 16 students in its first year.
But to Dale Scalise-Smith, Utica’s vice president for external programs and partnerships, the program is well worth the investment.
Utica College’s new Accelerated Second Bachelor’s Degree Nursing program begins Aug. 25 in St. Petersburg, the first time the small, private college has launched a satellite program outside of New York. And although the first class is expected to have 16 students and five faculty members, and the school’s capacity is 72 students, the school views itself as an answer to Florida’s growing nursing shortage.
“The nursing shortage is bad now, but predicted to get much worse in the coming decade,” Scalise-Smith said. “The average age of a nurse is about 57, around the age you retire, and there is a large population of baby boomers in need of care who will have chronic diseases and are living longer.”
More than 15,000 nursing jobs went unfilled in Florida during 2012, according to the Florida Center for Nursing at the University of Central Florida. By the 2025, the center anticipates a 20 percent growth in the nursing industry, creating a need for about a half-million registered nurses in Florida alone.
Representatives presented those statistics to the Board of Governors’ Health Initiatives Committee earlier this month at the University of South Florida’s Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation in Tampa, as the committee circled through the 20-year-old conversation on how to meet the growing need.
About 500 to 900 students who apply for nursing bachelor’s degrees at colleges and universities in the Tampa Bay area are turned away each year, according to Utica College, and the Institute of Medicine claims that the number of nurses with a bachelor’s degree will need to double by the year 2020.
The Utica program will allow students who have a bachelor’s degree to earn a nursing degree in 16 months during four back-to-back sessions. Students will enroll in a combination of online classes and in-person clinical labs and testing in a renovated facility at 9400 Fourth St. N. They also will participate in hands-on training with nurses and physicians in the area’s Bay Care hospitals. Utica, a private college of about 4,000 students, has offered a similar program in Upstate New York since January 2013.
The program will cost students about $51,285 to complete, Scalise-Smith said.
For established programs like the University of South Florida’s College of Nursing, Utica’s venture is a reminder that the ripe job market will mean growing competition.
“We have many more out-of-state institutions moving in and taking our clinical spots. And, in addition, the whole nation is facing a critical faculty shortage and that’s probably one of the most pressing issues we have when it comes to how we’re going to have enough nurses,” said Dianne Morrison-Beedy, dean of the USF College of Nursing. “So one of our big initiatives is not only how do we recruit and retain faculty, but how do we educate the next generation of nurse practitioners and educators.”
The average age of nurses in faculty positions is more than 60, and as nursing positions have opened up in the state many are choosing to stay in the hospital instead of moving to the classroom, Morrison-Beedy said.
The Tampa Bay area is home to more than 40 hospitals and numerous nursing homes, but is also a breeding ground for nursing programs like Utica’s. USF’s College of Nursing, like other local colleges and universities, is constrained by space, lack of faculty and available clinical-placement positions, Morrison-Beedy said. The placement rate for USF students in local hospitals is 97 percent, and 90 percent for St. Petersburg College. Competing with out-of-state programs and others that don’t have such “stellar outcomes” is a “significant challenge”
“This is not the time to divvy up the pie to whoever asks,” Morrison-Beedy said. “We need to place strategic prioritization to the programs that do provide quality students.”
At St. Petersburg College, nursing students last year accounted for 1,500 of 59,000 enrolled at the school’s 10 campuses, Dean of Nursing Susan Baker said. The demand for nurses also could be reflected in new career programs at Pinellas County high schools and the Pinellas Technical Education Centers.
“It’s hard to say what will happen as these programs come in,” Baker said. “We continue to work on recruiting and growing our programs, so I think in the end our reputation will keep us competitive.”