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Could new degree heal job woes?

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
October 21, 2008
— A new source of better-paying jobs might be just around the corner.

UW-Rock County is leading an effort to create a bachelor's degree program in nursing, said UW-Rock Dean Diane Pillard.


Access to a bachelor's degree in nursing could boost local wage-earners at a critical time, Pillard said.


"Given all the other stuff that's happening in Rock County, this could be a real plus," she said, referring to the spate of layoffs at local manufacturers.


Pillard has been talking to officials from local hospitals, Blackhawk Technical College and the UW-Oshkosh College of Nursing in an effort to get a program on its feet.


Officials from Mercy Health System, Beloit Memorial Hospital, Monroe Clinic and the not-yet-built St. Mary's Janesville Hospital all have been involved in recent discussions, Pillard said.


UW-Oshkosh was reluctant to expand its outreach efforts, but the enthusiasm of local health-care providers helped persuade UW-Oshkosh to pursue the program, Pillard said.


"The hospitals want this so badly, they are doing whatever they can to help us come to agreement," Pillard said.


"What we want do is provide an alternative that is easy and convenient for nurses wishing to expand their qualifications and thus expand their opportunities for advancement in the workplace," said Rich Gruber, a vice president for Mercy.


The program also could serve people just entering the field, Pillard said.


Nurses who hold associate degrees have told Mercy they'd like to further their educations, Gruber said.


Mercy and other employers offer assistance to employees who go back to school, which would be a boost to the program, Pillard said.


Mercy encourages its nurses to get higher degrees because their skills expand and they become more satisfied with their careers, which means happier employees, Gruber said.


Pillard said people starting from scratch would first attend UW-Rock for one year to take general-education courses, then complete the associate-degree nursing program at Blackhawk Tech.


They then would complete bachelor's degrees through UW-Oshkosh but do all their coursework at UW-Rock in Janesville.


Now, officials need to compare what is taught at the three institutions and forge an agreement that will result in a sequence of courses leading to the bachelor's degree.


"I'm really optimistic that if we can get this agreement in place by, say, February or March, that we could entertain the first cohort of pre-nursing students by September," Pillard said.


Pillard said she knows that's ambitious.


One of the biggest hurdles has been finding nurses with the credentials to teach bachelor's-degree students, Pillard said, but some local prospects have presented themselves as word got out.


Another need is a nursing lab. Pillard hopes Blackhawk will be able to offer its lab, at least for the first two years.


If that doesn't work, Pillard said she has a large classroom at UW-Rock that could be converted to a lab, although the equipment is expensive.


Pillard said a study by the UW Extension and UW Colleges about five years ago looked into the community's professional needs. The health field was one of the needs identified.



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