In a “Gateway City,” a Plan to Nurse Degree Attainment

Regis North to offer bachelor’s degree completion programs in nursing, public health and other health sciences …
With liberal arts colleges and universities reporting losses in student enrollment and retention, and our nation’s workforce growing older and more diverse, colleges and universities are being forced to rethink their approach to educating and engaging students.

Regis is no exception and has been making efforts to grow its enrollment by expanding our pre-professional programs and graduate programs in high-demand areas such as nursing, biomedical sciences, health administration and regulatory and clinical research.

The National Center for Education Statistics projects slowing college enrollment in the next decade—with growth coming from those traditionally underserved. As we grapple with concerns over a widening college enrollment gap for underrepresented students and the value of a college degree, we know that our ability to grow and thrive requires us to build on our efforts and go beyond the confines of our campus and our history, both to increase degree attainment based on national goals and to secure our institution’s future with responsive and responsible innovation.

We see collaboration as key to our success in educating and engaging students and forging relationships with employers who will hire our graduates. For example, we recently announced our first satellite location, Regis North, in partnership with Northern Essex Community College (NECC) in downtown Lawrence, an ethnically diverse, multicultural “Gateway City” 30 miles north of Boston. With more than 1,800 students enrolled in one of NECC’s 25 healthcare programs, NECC students will be able to seamlessly transition into Regis North’s bachelor’s degree completion programs in nursing, public health and other health sciences.

Regis North comes at a time when the healthcare industry confronts dual challenges: workforce shortages in a number of occupations and a more complex healthcare system that is requiring greater skill levels. Advanced degrees are increasingly sought after by employers in the healthcare industry. The Institute of Medicine has called for 80% of the nursing workforce to have a bachelor’s degree by 2020.

In addition to expanding access to healthcare, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) ties provider payment to healthcare quality, with reimbursements reflecting provider performance on adherence to certain care processes, scores on patient satisfaction surveys or patient outcomes. Nurses with bachelor’s degrees are in demand as various studies have demonstrated a link between nurses having earned a BS and better patient outcomes, lower rates of patient mortality, shorter lengths of hospital stay and lower re-admission rates.

As a fully accredited satellite of Regis college, Regis North will combine the experienced faculty and nationally recognized nursing and public health curriculum offered at our main campus in Weston, Mass., with the locally embedded community college and its established campus facilities. Regis North students are able to access student supports through NECC including library services, laboratories and assistance for students with disabilities.

For years, Lawrence has faced daunting challenges: a median income just half the state average; 30% of residents living below the poverty line; and just an 11% rate of bachelor degree attainment. We intentionally positioned Regis North to help students in downtown Lawrence and surrounding areas, which have been traditionally underserved by higher education. We are the first associate to bachelor’s degree completion program in healthcare in downtown Lawrence. Students will earn 100% of their credits toward a Regis bachelor’s degree at the Lawrence site.

With Regis North, we are increasing local access to in-demand healthcare degrees and strengthening the healthcare workforce in this traditionally underserved community. But more than that, we are contributing to the region by harnessing untapped potential of area residents and creating a pipeline of talent for employers.

Leading nursing and public health professional organizations such as the American Association of Colleges of Nursing and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, have called for increasing diversity in the nursing and public workforce to better reflect changing population demographics of the country. As a nation, we must think creatively in finding new ways to achieve that goal. Programs like Regis North are designed to target diverse populations, including educated adult learners who may have been trained as nurses in their own country, but lack the necessary credentials to practice nursing in the U.S. These students are also likely to face barriers, such as pressing, multiple, family and financial obligations that prevent them from completing their bachelor’s degree and advancing their careers in healthcare.

We are making a concerted choice to invest and expand in communities such as Lawrence, where both population and need present significant opportunities for Regis and local residents.

By going to where more students live and work, models like Regis North have the potential to be game-changers in educating the next generation and catalyzing educational and economic opportunities.

Antoinette Hays is president of Regis College.


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