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HCC, USF JOIN NURSING FORCES

The partnership allows HCC students to dual enroll and obtain a bachelor's degree.

Nearly three years ago, Jamie Kaleo's father had a heart attack. Her healthy-living, clean-eating, marathon-running dad suddenly needed a triple bypass operation. It was terrifying. But something monumental happened as she sat with him in the cardiac intensive care unit at St. Joseph's Hospital. Kaleo, a personal trainer, watched the nurses taking care of her dad. They were wonderful. I want to do this, she thought.

Her dad survived. Within months, Kaleo enrolled in the nursing program at Hillsborough Community College, which she chose because she liked its small class sizes. And now, because of collaboration between HCC and the University of South Florida, Kaleo can get her bachelor's degree without having to transfer from the community college, which previously only offered an associate's degree in nursing.

"It's a huge advantage," said Kaleo, 43.

This is the first partnership of its kind between HCC and USF. An associate's degree is all that is needed for students to take the exam to become registered nurses. But most employers today are increasingly demanding that RN job candidates have bachelor's degrees, after studies have shown RNs with advanced degrees offer better patient care than those without.

"We needed to create a seamless way for our students to obtain a bachelor's degree," said Gayle Peterson-Palmberg, director of nursing at HCC.

The field of nursing is projected to increase by 19 percent by 2020 - making it one of the top-growth fields, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is because of several reasons, the agency said: aging baby boomers, more people able to access health care because of the Affordable Care Act, the growing rate of conditions like diabetes and obesity, increased emphasis on preventative care. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing predicts a massive RN shortage that's only going to intensify with time, unless changes are made to teach more students. But there is also a nursing faculty shortage - there aren't enough teachers to teach the students.

Florida is going to need 50,000 more RNs in the next few years, said Dr. Dianne Morrison-Beedy, dean of USF's College of Nursing.

The program was a year in the making and allows more nurses to obtain their bachelor's degree.

"It's about creating access for students," Morrison-Beedy said.

Prior to this year, HCC students who wanted to continue their studies at USF had to graduate, pass the RN exam and apply to the USF College of Nursing. Kaleo said it could have meant a semester or two of being in limbo and now, with the concurrent program, it will be smooth. Dual enrollment students must maintain a 3.0 GPA.

Kaleo, who spent the past two years taking her degree prerequisites like statistics, psychology and English, will take the USF nursing courses online as she's taking her HCC classes. With this partnership, she obtains a bachelor's degree while mostly paying community college prices. In-state tuition for undergraduate courses at HCC is $108 per credit hour, compared with $211 per credit hour at USF.

And she gets to stay in a smaller, intimate classroom setting.

"This is something we need to do," Kaleo said. "And now they've made it that much easier for us."

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