The demise of the Bachelor of Science nursing program at Humboldt State University has wounded the region's health care system and signaled that something may be awry on campus.
The hurt to the health care system extends well beyond the roughly 60 openings for new bachelor's-level nursing students that will no longer be available said Deloras Jones, executive director of California Institute for Nursing and Health Care, a nonprofit that has been instrumental in revising training programs statewide.
Last year, California graduated roughly 2,800 nurses with bachelor's degrees, so the loss of five-dozen people will hardly be felt on a statewide basis.
The real impact of the loss of those HSU grads, Jones explained, will be on the hospitals, doctor's offices, clinics and other providers in the rural areas beyond the county's Eureka-Arcata core.
"Rural employers have always had a harder time than urban employers in attracting nurses," Jones said, and with the HSU program closure, hospitals and clinics throughout the region will now have to recruit from Çhico or Sonoma State.
How big a problem that will be remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the good news for job-seekers on the North Coast is that there is still a place to get a nursing degree in Humboldt County -- just not a bachelor's degree -- at College of the Redwoods.
Patricia Girczyc, interim dean of health occupations at CR, explained that there are at least two types of registered nurses. CR issues associate's degrees in nursing while HSU had issued bachelor's degrees. Either degree will allow the properly certified trainee to work as a registered nurse in a wide variety of settings, she said. But the bachelor's degree is required to hold public health posts or serve in administration.
Girczyc said CR's nursing program is still going strong and that the community colleges in the region have been working together and with HSU to create a hybrid training program in which the two-year schools would deliver the basics and HSU would add the finishing touches to bring students from the associate degree to the bachelor's level.
Running a university is tough. According to HSU, the state of California allocates $4,306 per full-time student - and doesn't care that it costs $11,252 to train a nurse but only $4,255 to keep a business major in ledger paper.
To meet the needs of its students while living with its budget, HSU's administration has had to do a balancing act - if the school can herd X number of students into cheaper majors that ends up allowing Y number of students to take classes in nursing, the sciences or the arts -- all fields where, at some point in the course of instruction, the student-to-teacher ratio gets so tight that the program cost rises far above the average lecture where one professor can teach dozens of students at a time.
But there are 20 state universities with nursing programs -- all facing the same realities -- and yet only HSU has had to end its nursing program, said Jones, the nursing maven. Students and faculty in other fields, like the sciences and arts, that are also costly because of high student-teacher ratios must now also worry that the administrators, who are supposed to make this budget shift work, were apparently the only one of 20 comparable institutions that had to euthanize nursing to protect other programs.
Still there is hope for the continuation of bachelor-level nursing in the region. Even now, HSU officials, together with their counterparts at CR, Shasta College in Redding and College of the Siskiyous in Weed, hope to create a program that would take students from two-year schools straight through a bachelor's degree. Jones said a $250,000 planning grant is available to help lay the plans. "When we get a proposal from HSU, they'll get the money," she said.