Nursing graduation rates attract state grant

The Harris College of Nursing and Health Sciences has been rewarded for its retention and graduation rates in 2008 with a state grant, according to a university official.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board awarded the college a grant of more than $280,000 for the school’s improvement in graduation rate, said Shawn Kornegay, associate director of communications.

Paulette Burns, dean of the Harris College of Nursing and Health Sciences, said Texas has been concerned with the shortage of nurses in the work force since 1998, and has been providing financial incentive to increase enrollment in nursing schools throughout the state.

Burns wrote in an e-mail that the Texas Legislature approved funding for the Nursing Shortage Reduction Program to kick-start the nursing school programs in Texas. According to the program, in 2007, 158 students graduated from the Harris College. In 2008 the graduation total increased to 196.

The nursing school was awarded the same grant in 2005, 2006 and 2008 Burns said. The only way for the nursing school to get more grant money would be to increase the number of graduates every year, she said.

Chris Fowler, senior program director of the The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, said the grant can be used for hiring new faculty, hiring preceptors, who are working nurses that help teach at nursing schools, and giving salary supplements.

Burns said the nursing school is still deciding how to best use the grant.

In the past, the nursing school has used the grant to hire three additional faculty members and one retention specialist, or academic adviser, Burns said.

Because the nursing school can hire more faculty, a larger number of students can be admitted, Burns said. The school’s retention program has also helped to graduate 90 percent of all admitted students, he said.

Dennis Cheek, gerontological nursing professor, said the grants have helped enrollment in his pharmacology and pathophisiology classes explode. He said when he came to the university in 2003, he had about 30 students in class. He now has 71 students enrolled in his freshman pharmacology class.

Cheek said he works closely with other professors of first-year classes. He said the professors have become good at building each others’ curriculum, which helps better prepare students for graduation.