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HCC to launch bachelor’s degree in nursing in 2022

Hillsborough Community College is developing its first ever 4-year degree program to meet the demand for nurses.
Nursing students Ashanti Flournoy, 22, left, and Kasara Espinal, 24, right, demonstrate a simulation at Hillsborough County Community College's N Dale Mabry Highway campus in Tampa. The college plans to offer a bachelor's degree in nursing beginning in the fall of 2022.
Nursing students Ashanti Flournoy, 22, left, and Kasara Espinal, 24, right, demonstrate a simulation at Hillsborough County Community College's N Dale Mabry Highway campus in Tampa. The college plans to offer a bachelor's degree in nursing beginning in the fall of 2022. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Nov. 4, 2021

TAMPA — As hospitals warn of a severe shortage of nurses, Hillsborough Community College is preparing to offer a bachelor’s degree in nursing. It will be the community college’s first ever four-year degree program.

The college received approval from the State Board of Education in August to move ahead with the plan and expects to offer classes in the fall of 2022.

HCC already produces an average of 240 nurses a year through its two-year associates degree program. But hospitals are increasingly judged by accrediting agencies on how many of their nurses have a baccalaureate degree.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing is also advising hospitals and health care firms that better educated nurses produce better patient outcomes — including lower mortality rates.

College leaders said local healthcare leaders have begged them to step in to help alleviate the region’s shortfall.

Related: BayCare will help train the next generation of pediatricians

The new degree program should produce an additional 135 nurses a year when its first class graduates in 2024 with that number rising to 285 once the program is at full capacity, said Paul Nagy, HCC vice president of strategic planning and analysis.

“The employers were demanding it,” he said. “We want to respond to the labor market economy and the demand in the Tampa Bay region.”

Administrators see the program as an historic step for the community college, which lags behind state colleges that began offering baccalaureate degrees 10 or more years ago. Many of them also rebranded, dropping “community’ from their name to reflect their new status.

HCC President Ken Atwater, who has led the college since 2010, was keen that the college not duplicate programs already offered at other state universities and colleges. It’s why the college’s application to the State Board of Education included a letter of support from the University of South Florida, which already offers a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

The college is seeking accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to become a baccalaureate degree granting institution as well as approval of its nursing degree program.

“This is a big change for a college that has never offered a baccalaureate degree,” Nagy said.

Related: HCC readies for 50th anniversary with 'Presidential Showcase'

The shortage of nurses isn’t limited to Tampa Bay.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 194,500 nursing jobs will open every year until 2030, making it increasingly hard for hospitals and clinics to fill that growing demand with qualified nurses. Florida is expected to face a shortfall of almost 60,000 nurses by 2035, according to estimates by the Florida Hospital Association and Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida.

The new program should provide a more affordable path for the college’s nursing students to earn a bachelor’s degree. Many of those who graduate from the 2-year program either go to the USF College of Nursing or end up at for-profit private colleges where a nursing degree can cost upward of $50,000. HCC estimates its new degree will cost students about $13,000, roughly half of the cost for the same qualification at USF, Nagy said.

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Many of the upper level classes will be online or evening to cater to non-traditional students who are already working.

“They already are fully licensed nurses when they start the junior year and most of them will be employed as nurses,” Nagy said. “We’re anticipating almost all of our graduates will want to matriculate to the bachelors degree at HCC.”

Professor Joscelyn Richey on Tuesday teaches a class of nursing students at Hillsborough County Community College's N Dale Mabry Highway campus in Tampa.
Professor Joscelyn Richey on Tuesday teaches a class of nursing students at Hillsborough County Community College's N Dale Mabry Highway campus in Tampa. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Faculty need at least a master’s degree to teach baccalaureate coursework but about a dozen of the 23 full-time faculty in the school’s nursing program have obtained educational doctorates or doctorates of nursing, said Dean of Health Science Leif Penrose.

The new program will make the degree accessible to a wider range of students including those who might not meet USF’s entrance criteria, he said. Typically about half of HCC’s nursing students go onto study for a bachelor’s degree either at USF or at a private school.

“They end up paying a lot more money,” Penrose said.

HCC decided to move up the timetable for its program when it learned that USF was sunsetting an online program that allows working nurses with associate degrees to complete their bachelor’s degrees. The university is also ending the matriculation agreement it had with the community college to accept its graduates.

Related: USF College of Nursing works to boost enrollment as nurse shortage looms

Instead, USF plans to shift resources into attracting students with no nursing experience for a full 4-year program, said Catherine Beldon, assistant dean of the undergraduate nursing program.

The university has already expanded its classes at its St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee campuses to produce roughly 60 more more nursing graduates per year.

“We can turn our attention to supporting and growing new nurses — that’s what we so very excited about,” said Beldon.

BayCare was one of the local hospital chains that lent its support to HCC’s application. Its own 2020 community report warned that the health care industry is still assessing whether the stresses brought by the pandemic will result in some nurses changing career, exacerbating the shortfall of qualified nurses.

Jacqueline Munro, BayCare vice president of nursing systems and resources, said the health care firm is encouraged to hear that HCC is moving to address the need for more nurses in the Tampa Bay region.

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