Northern State combats health care workforce shortage with new nursing program

Published: Jul. 7, 2023 at 6:21 PM CDT
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ABERDEEN, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - After Presentation College announced it would be closing its campus this year, a gap in educational opportunities for those pursuing health care was felt in Aberdeen. Northern State University plans to fill that gap.

Last month, NSU received authorization from the South Dakota Board of Regents to implement a Bachelor of Science in Nursing program.

Previously, Northern offered just a pre-nursing program and an accelerated nursing program in partnership with South Dakota State University. Presentation College offered multiple nursing programs but announced that it would be closing its campus in January.

NSU President Neal Schnoor said dozens of Presentation College students have utilized Northern’s teach-out agreement, but without a nursing program, there was something still missing.

”When Presentation College closed down, that happened rather suddenly, and that started a whole study of what’s the best way to serve this region. We worked very hard with the South Dakota Board of Regents office, we studied lots of models, and we’re thrilled that the Regents stepped up to serve this region by approving this program,” said Schnoor.

With health care workforce shortages happening nationwide, NSU wanted to provide an educational opportunity that would address the issue in the Aberdeen area.

“The real issue that is driving this is rural needs. By 2030, South Dakota is projected to have the third-highest RN, registered nurse, shortage. What people don’t know is that our region, over the last several years, has experienced the greatest decrease in RN to population ratio. We are really in a critical situation. You’ve got two issues. We’re sad that Presentation College closed, but that doesn’t change the demand,” said Schnoor.

Schnoor said NSU plans to launch the program in the fall of 2024.

”Our first cohort, to get started, we’re shooting for 25. As we graduate up, we’ll hopefully have cohorts of 50 each year. Eventually, we’re hoping to have 160 to 200 more students in the program at any time, with cohorts of roughly 48 to 64,” said Schnoor.

Nursing, however, isn’t the only workforce shortage Northern hopes to address. Recently, NSU announced an Early Childhood Education Associate program to help the demand for childcare providers. This fall, full-tuition scholarships are also being offered to five students who commit to working in childcare in South Dakota for two years after graduation.

”We are here to serve education and workforce needs. Just at the last Board of Regents meeting, we put through a new program that will help train teachers, we’ve got a new Early Childhood Associates, the only in the state, and of course, a nursing program,” said Schnoor.

Sanford Aberdeen hopes to not only offer future NSU nursing students clinical opportunities, but employment opportunities as well.

”Sanford partners very closely with our local institutions for clinicals and then, hopefully, retain them within the community whether it’s our organization or another organization. We work really closely with those students to embed them in the community and get them involved and hopefully keep them local,” said Sanford Aberdeen Executive Director Kila LeGrand.

NSU plans to house its new nursing program in the building that will replace Lincoln Hall.