BROOKSVILLE — One day last week, nursing students at Pasco-Hernando Community College's North Campus readied themselves for an exercise in a hospital shift change.
In a nursing lab outfitted just like a ward, students, playing the roles of nurses leaving for the day, had to brief their relievers on the status of their "patients" — mannequin-like simulators that have vital signs and can be programmed to moan, cough and exhibit other symptoms. One with a purple wig and fake eyelashes had suffered injuries in a car crash, students learned. Another, with a gray wig and glasses, fell in the bathroom.
The students are aiming for a practical nursing license. After the nine-month program, they can spend another year on PHCC's Dade City or Spring Hill campuses to earn an associate's degree as a registered nurse.
In the future,t however, the college might offer a four-year degree in nursing, allowing students the chance to stay local instead of going on to other four-year colleges and universities. PHCC currently offers only two-year programs.
"It would be nice to stay in one place and have some continuity," said Amanda Rivera, a 21-year-old Spring Hill resident who hopes to earn her master's degree to become a nurse anesthetist.
The bachelor's in nursing is one of a host of ideas the college is exploring to align its course catalog with the current and projected demands of the 21st century economy.
The goal of the needs assessment is to develop programs based on the answer to a fundamental question, said Stanley Giannet, provost for the North Campus in Brooksville: "What other areas are we not offering that could increase the opportunity for residents of Pasco and Hernando counties and meet the economic and development needs of our area?"
The college's existing curriculum committees — composed of community members, business leaders and deans — are helping to answer that question. College officials invited the public to offer feedback in a series of forums earlier this year on each of the four PHCC campuses.
One of the key guideposts is a yearlong study by the Tampa Bay Partnership that identified four job sectors that show promise in the eight-county Tampa Bay region: applied medicine; high-tech electronics and instruments; business, financial and data services, and marine and environmental activities. In many cases, according to the study, the region already has a foothold in these areas and should focus on fostering existing businesses and attracting new ones to create jobs.
The college is now studying the feasibility of potential offerings. The effort is in the early stages, but the data provide compelling evidence the college is on the right track, Giannet said.
Among the other offerings the college is exploring:
• A bachelor's degree in applied sciences with tracks in the areas of technology and industry.
• A bachelor's in human services to prepare students for careers in the social services field. The college already offers an associate's degree in this field, the enrollment numbers are high, and the demand is only expected to grow with continued fallout from a crippled economy, Giannet said.
• A bachelor's in health services administration to prepare students for careers on the business side of the health care industry.
In addition to the bachelor's programs, the college is considering an expansion of its associate's degree offerings in a variety of fields. Among those at the top of the list are accounting technology, financial services, health information management, engineering technology and manufacturing technology.
Another is an associate's degree in professional pilot technology. The college would develop a curriculum to partner with a flight school operating at the Hernando County Airport, said Mike McHugh, Hernando's director of business development.
There has already been some initial dialogue with flight school representatives who might want to set up shop at the airport to offer a Federal Aviation Authority certification program, McHugh said.
"Then the flight school can say to potential students, not only can you get an FAA certificate, you can get a college degree," McHugh said.
College officials are also in talks with the Hernando Sheriff's Office to explore an auxiliary officer certificate program. Auxiliary officers ride with deputies and carry guns, but they aren't paid. It's a way for the agency to save money and use manpower more efficiently and for the auxiliary officers to decide if law enforcement is a good fit for them, said sheriff's Col. Mike Maurer. If they do, the service hours are helpful resume boosters, he said.
A similar dialogue is under way with local fire agencies to partner to offer an associate's degree in fire science technology.
It could be years before some programs come to fruition. But those that build on what the college already offers could be in place much sooner, Giannet said.
"Some would be more of a challenge. But the hope is with grants and partnerships, we might be able to offer some of these programs," he said.
Among the likely partners are the Pasco and Hernando school districts. Nature Coast Technical High School, south of Brooksville, for example, has existing infrastructure for culinary arts and machining.
The effort comes at a pivotal time for a growing community college and a region battered by recession and unemployment.
Full-time enrollment at PHCC has increased 40 percent in the past three years. The college moved to its new Spring Hill campus last year and is set to open its fifth campus for the 2013-14 academic year. The Porter Campus in Wesley Chapel will offer business and health care programs as well as general education courses.
With tight family budgets, high school students are choosing the less expensive route of community college, and adults in their 20s and 30s and beyond who find themselves unemployable are heading back to school, McHugh said.
"What we're seeing is the jobs that are being created are requiring a high level of skill," he said, "so we've got to come up with some bridges to get these people to what they need to know."
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or tmarrero@ tampabay.com. Connect with him on Facebook by searching for Hernando Education Beat — Tampa Bay Times.