Maricopa Community Colleges


2008 Jul 07

Maricopa Colleges Nursing Program Addresses Shortage in Job Market

The shortage of registered nurses in the job market is being addressed by the Maricopa Community Colleges, which recently announced increases in nursing graduates and enrollment.

"The administration and faculty of the nursing program are working aggressively to ease the critical shortage of registered nurses in Arizona," said Cathy Lucius, who retired in June after 26 years as Nursing faculty, most of it with GateWay Community College. For the last three years, she served as the administrator of the Maricopa Community College District Nursing Program, one of the largest associate degree nursing programs in the nation.

Maricopa's District Nursing Program is offered at nine of the 10 Maricopa Community Colleges: Chandler-Gilbert, Estrella Mountain, GateWay, Glendale, Mesa, Paradise Valley, Phoenix, Rio Salado, and Scottsdale.

"Prior to the spring of 1999, we had programs at five colleges," Lucius said. "We reopened in the fall of 1999 as one Maricopa program at multiple locations, and we've grown the program to nine of our colleges." Lucius said student enrollment continues to rise due to multiple grants and partnerships with area healthcare organizations, increasing 13 percent from Spring 2006 to this Spring to 1,951 enrolled nursing students. The number of graduates from Maricopa's nursing program has also risen to 547 this spring, all of whom are eligible to apply for licensure through the State Board of Nursing.

"Both numbers (enrollment and graduates) represent the commitment the Maricopa Community Colleges has to meeting the needs of the workforce and the communities we serve," she said. "It remains a very popular program in the community because of the continuing need for new nurses in the job market. The demand is still larger than we can fill because of the limited number of nursing faculty and clinical sites, which is reflected by our waiting list of students who want into the program."

"The shortage of registered nurses is well documented and is expected to increase in severity each year," added Lucius, who was succeeded as Nursing programs administrator in July by Dr. Judi Crume of Estrella Mountain Community College, a 30-year veteran of nursing and health care teaching and administration. "Burdened with limited budgets and resources, the nursing program seeks assistance to increase enrollment and graduates by applying for multiple grants from state and national agencies and working to develop partnerships with area healthcare organizations."

One of the corporate partnerships is with the Banner Health Nurse Fellows Program, which recently expanded to include five of the Maricopa Community Colleges. It will allow an additional 210 students each year to be admitted to an accelerated program option, which permits graduation after 16 months. "The accelerated program is able to reduce the time to graduation by scheduling nursing classes over the summer months, a time when many traditional students are on summer break," said Crume.

In 2005, the Arizona Legislature passed Senate Bills 1517 and 1294, under the combined heading The Arizona Partnership for Nursing Education (APNE). It appropriates $4 million annually from the General Fund for five years to establish the Nursing Education Demonstration Project Fund to support faculty in community college and university nursing programs. Eight of the Maricopa Community Colleges received grants to increase the number of nursing faculty, which has resulted in a significant increase in student enrollment.

Lucius said nursing directors at the Maricopa Community Colleges are able to maximize limited campus and community resources by offering classes in the afternoon and evenings, on weekends, and with admission dates occurring at non-traditional times. Admissions and graduation are scheduled up to six times a year. In addition to staggering start dates, the nursing program is able to graduate students at multiple times each year, providing a steady rate of graduates at times other than the traditional May and December graduation dates.