When the budget axe swung in the last session of the Texas Legislature, there were warnings sounded about the impact of the cuts on higher education – and on the students and their parents who bear the cost of college education. At Lamar University, those cuts are taking a toll.On May 11, LU officials announced the ending of the university’s Associate of Applied Science in Nursing degree program. The last students will begin the two-year program this fall.
Lamar had become the only university in Texas offering the two-year degree, said Brenda Nichols, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “The university has evolved and nursing in this region has evolved to a level where it is important for us to focus on the baccalaureate and master’s levels,” Nichols said. In addition to the associate degree program being eliminated, the JoAnne Gay Dishman Department of Nursing offers the Bachelor’s of Science in nursing, the RN to BSN track, the Master’s of Science in nursing, and a MSN/MBA dual degree.
“This change is not a reflection on the quality of our associate degree program, or on the quality of our graduates, or the quality of our applicants,” Nichols said. “It is about managing our resources and meeting the needs of the health-care system.”
Lamar has admitted 40 students into the associate program each fall. The department admits students into the bachelor’s program in fall and spring semesters totaling 130 annually. While the department has increased the number of students it admits without substantially increasing its faculty, it still turns away between 80 and 120 applicants a year. “We will increase the number we admit into the bachelor’s program beginning fall 2013,” said Eileen Curl, chair of the JoAnne Gay Dishman Department of Nursing.
The elimination of the associate program follows health care industry trends, Nichols said. A January 2011 report released by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, titled The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, stressed that nurses should achieve higher levels of education and training to meet the challenges facing national health.
The report concludes that “a more educated nursing workforce would be better equipped to meet the demands of an evolving health-care system, and this need could be met by increasing the percentage of nurses with a BSN.” The report includes a recommendation that the proportion of nurses with baccalaureate degrees be increased to 80 percent by 2020.
“We don’t discount the value of the associate degree as for many this has been a stepping stone toward continued advancement in the field,” said Nichols, whose own educational journey began with an associate degree. To help those who already have an associate degree become BSN prepared, the nursing department has expanded its RN to BSN track.
The other changes involve proposed tuition and fee hikes that will impact the entire student body.
When the Texas State University System board of regents meets on May 24–25, they are expected to approve a proposal from LU administrators that would raise the tuition rate by 4.8 percent beginning in the spring semester 2013.
In-state students currently pay $198 per credit hour. That rate would be raised to $208. This would represent a $120 per semester increase for a student currently paying $2,376 for a full class load of 12 credit hours.
Kevin Smith, LU senior associate provost, defended the proposal as necessary step.
“We’re not a for-profit business, and our goal is to maintain the quality of our instructional programs. To do that, we have to rely on the state, and tuition and fees from our students,” he said. “The state has reduced appropriations to the university and so sadly we have had to shift more of the burden to our students. That includes these tuition increase proposals.”
The TSUS board will also consider a request to temporarily increase student fees to pay for a student center renovation.“This was one that was actually initiated by our current student government,” said Smith. “They did a referendum this spring to increase that fee from $30 to $100 to renovate the Setzer Student Center, an older building on campus.
Business Journal editor James Shannon offers a weekly column of business news for readers of The Examiner. For more details, see the editions of the Business journal published monthly in Beaumont, Port Arthur and Greater Orange. Check out the blog at setxbiz.blogspot.com  or e-mail james [at] beaumontbusinessjournal [dot] com.