Riverland to bring four-year nursing degree to area this fall

Published 7:00 am Sunday, February 16, 2014

For many students, schools like Riverland Community College used to be a two-year stop between high school graduation and a four-year college.

Not anymore. Not for area nursing students.

Riverland will soon break from the mold by offering nursing students a direct path to a bachelor’s degree through the Minnesota Alliance for Nursing Education program. Thanks to a partnership with Metropolitan State University, nursing students can take all four years of bachelor-level courses at Riverland to earn a Metropolitan State degree starting this fall.

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“They can get the bachelor’s right here, which we can think is wonderful,” said Pamela Tranby, dean of allied health at Riverland.

Riverland will join six community colleges across the state through the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system to partner with Metropolitan State, according to Tranby. The nursing curriculum taught at Riverland will align with Metropolitan State and the other colleges, and students admitted to the nursing program will automatically dual enroll at Metropolitan State.

“It will be entirely at Riverland,” Tranby said. “They will be able to stay at our campus, our community.”

The move is the latest in a string of programs Riverland has created by partnering with other colleges. The school announced its 2+2 program partnership with Winona State University in 2012, which allowed Riverland students to complete a two-year nursing degree and complete the next two years either at Winona State or through Winona State classes taught at Riverland. A similar 2+2 program for elementary education was announced last fall as Winona State, Riverland and Austin Public Schools will partner to teach up to 25 college students at Sumner Elementary School, where they’ll gain practical experience and fulfill student teaching requirements. That program starts this fall as well.

The move to more bachelor’s degrees mirrors trends throughout various industries, according to Mary Davenport, vice president of academic and student affairs. Hospitals around the U.S. have changed hiring practices to recruit more nurses with bachelor’s degrees.

“The need is here, and I think people are expressing interest,” Davenport said.

Riverland is partnering with other Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) schools to offer these programs for a bigger goal: Increasing retention not only on the college level but on the state level.

Davenport, Tranby and other higher education experts have seen the effects of the 2009 Great Recession up close: When work got hard, students went back to school for more training.

And for a couple years, student population at Riverland and other colleges increased as more people got further training or changed careers to meet market demands. As the economy improves, and as higher education money is cut by the state legislature, Riverland and colleges across the U.S. have seen student enrollment and retention flatline and decrease.

“We want to meet the needs of people in our district,” Riverland President Adenuga Atewologun said.

Atewologun said Riverland will likely announce three or four more partnerships over the next year or so to offer even more paths to a bachelor’s degree. Riverland is in talks with Minnesota State University, Mankato to start a 2+2 program for applied engineering, as well as agricultural technology. In addition, Riverland is trying to create a 3+1 program path with Winona State University for arts and humanities degrees like English and philosophy.

Riverland has also added a director of partnerships and transitions to work on building more bachelor degree paths for students.

School officials hope the emphasis on four-year degrees will keep students in the area when they decide to find work. And Riverland hopes to build even more partnerships soon.

“We’re keen on being on the forefront,” Atewologun said.