Nebraska is a predominantly rural state. Six of its 93 counties report not having a registered nurse (R.N.), and another six counties report having only one R.N. each. Currently, 6.9 percent of Nebraska nurses have reported their intention to leave their primary job over the next year, with millennials (43 percent) reporting the highest exodus. This statistic aligns with a national trend of nurses 35 years and younger (4 percent) leaving the workforce in 2021. Statistics like these drive the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) College of Nursing (CON)’s transfer programs collaborating with academic partners to meet a critical need in rural areas.
UNMC has had a long-standing commitment to developing the rural health-care workforce. Through its Health Opportunity Programs (HOP), UNMC and its six colleges, of which the CON is one, have been educating students across Nebraska, preparing them to enter health-care careers. Pathway programs for rural students allow them to remain close to home, offering more affordable education opportunities while maintaining their social connections. The rural HOP (RHOP) and Kearney HOP (KHOP) are pathways designed to recruit and educate students in health-care fields who are committed to practicing in rural areas upon graduation. These exemplify the University of Nebraska’s strategic priority to provide seamless transfer opportunities for students, particularly from community and state colleges in Nebraska. The University of Nebraska system has a long history of making concerted efforts to facilitate transfer agreements that are student-centered and foster degree achievement.
The CON has an upper-division bachelor of science in nursing (B.S.N.) program with all students transferring from elsewhere. With five divisions across Nebraska, the CON faculty and staff have developed innovative ways to promote seamless admission to the nursing program. Collegiate rural outreach, in collaboration with academic partners across the state, provides pathways to aid in developing the rural nursing workforce. The pathway programs are critical recruitment strategies that assist rural areas to thrive.
Students in the RHOP programs may come from underserved areas of the state and receive free tuition to attend the state colleges or the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK) and then enter the nursing program at one of the five CON divisions. RHOP provides a pathway for underserved and diverse populations to receive health-care education. Scholarships are available to high school students enrolling in Nebraska state or community colleges as prenursing students completing their general education courses, and then they can seamlessly transfer to one of the CON divisions, including in rural areas, to complete the B.S.N.
Academic partnerships across Nebraska offer early admission into the Rural Pathway Program (RPP) transfer option. Agreements consist of a set of criteria that, if met, allow for a seamless transition with two years of general education completed at a state college or UNK, with guaranteed admission to the CON for their final two years of study to earn the B.S.N. degree. Criteria for guaranteed admission into the RPP seamless transfer option for students include meeting with a CON student services coordinator once per semester prior to admission and participation in campus-specific program requirements as a strategy to foster connection and maintain communication with the CON while completing prerequisite courses elsewhere. Students may apply after completion of one semester at the academic partner institution.
RPP collaborations exist between UNK and CON Kearney, Wayne State College and CON Norfolk, and Chadron State College and CON Scottsbluff. Students who complete their prenursing courses, meet admission criteria and apply for early admission are granted guaranteed admission to the CON collaborating campus. Military veterans are also able to receive guaranteed admission to the CON on all five campuses. Applicants who are veterans and meet CON admission criteria are also provided guaranteed admission to earn the B.S.N. degree.
Transfer programs exist for R.N.-B.S.N. students seeking the B.S.N. degree. Students who apply to the R.N.-B.S.N. early admission program must meet criteria to seamlessly enroll in the CON upon successful completion of their nursing courses at the community colleges. Criteria include enrollment in a nursing program at a Nebraska community college. Each applicant meets with a CON student services adviser each semester as a strategy to build connection to the CON and develop supportive relationships. An unencumbered registered nursing license in Nebraska is required to seamlessly enroll in a CON nursing program across Nebraska.
Collaboration with academic partners is a vital part of the CON’s success with transfer pathway options. Ongoing communication with the CON’s academic partners is essential to making these pathways truly seamless for students. Rural pathway programs, like the ones the CON has established with state and community colleges and UNK, recruit nursing students in rural settings with the intent of practicing in their rural communities upon graduation. Partnership initiatives like these address the nursing shortage in rural Nebraska.
The authors are eight professors at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. They are: Michelle L Johnson, Cathrin Carithers, Ken Zeiger, Liane Connelly, Kati Bravo, Louise LaFramboise, Lynnette Leeseberg-Stamler and Julie Sebastian.