Proposed nursing program breaks new ground



In the midst of a nursing shortage in Iowa and examining the interests of incoming students, UNI has proposed a new nursing program awaiting approval from the Board of Regents.

NIXSON BENITEZ, Executive Editor

Iowa is facing a critical shortage of nurses. As of this past month there were nearly 4,500 open jobs for nurses in Iowa, a number four times higher than any other field. 

On Sept. 23, the office of the provost released a statement mentioning that fall 2022 marks the start of phase three of strategic planning. This phase’s focus is on building a collective vision for the future of UNI and includes beginning the process of starting a new school of health. 

The letter also included the welcome of UNI’s Chief Academic Nurse Administrator Nancy Kertz, Ph.D. The university cannot proceed with formal planning and development until the Board of Regents gives approval in their next meeting.

Academic Positioning (AP) is a strategic plan at UNI that involves over 100 faculty, staff and students. AP was created because UNI will be hitting its 150th anniversary in 2026 and is looking into the next 50 years and what needs to be in place for the university to be successful in the future. AP also answers the questions of what academic programs in particular does Iowa need to have to prepare individuals for future jobs.

AP is made up of four academic areas including Healthcare, Big Data/Data Analytics, Engineering/Applied Engineering and Sustainability. AP also identified two support services including academic advising and credential/alternative credentialing. Nursing was later identified and recommended after identifying some trends in demand. 

“Working nurses are overstretched right now because hospitals, clinics and nursing homes can’t find enough employees. This stress is unfortunately not only impacting the quality of care available to Iowa residents, but is causing increased numbers of people to leave the profession, compounding the issue.” Provost Jose Herrera said in a statement. “We are at a point where we have done as much pre-planning as possible to ensure this is the right path for UNI. We now have to work through the formal process of getting Board of Regents approval. The Board looks carefully at a range of issues in making that approval, including needs of the state and the financial plans of running the program.”

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, over 91,000 qualified applicants were denied admissions to nursing schools this last year. In 2030, the Iowa Workforce projects that nurses will still be the number one needed job with over 37,000 positions needing filled. 

Many healthcare providers especially in rural areas are having difficulty overcoming staffing shortages.

UNI President Mark Nook said, “When you look at the students that are applying to UNI and you ask them what field you want to study in…the largest number [of student responses] are in health related fields. It outnumbers, education, business, science–it outnumbers all of those almost two to one.”

“Launching a new program like nursing is a complex multi-step process.” Herrera said, “After determining the demand for such a program, as well as its benefits for the state of Iowa… It takes time to develop a new program like this and to work through the various levels of accreditation and review. We are hopeful that we could start our first cohort in the fall of 2024.”

Many of UNI’s partners in the provider settings are committed to helping because they experience the shortage of nurses every day. If approved, the first class of nursing students would graduate in 2028 or earlier due to many students graduating early.

“This is something that really is bigger, and about our futures as a university” Nook said.