Citizens group pushing for 4-year status for Darton

Photo by J.D. Sumner

Photo by J.D. Sumner

ALBANY, Ga. -- Darton College should be granted status as a four-year college to help cope with an imminent shortage of nurses, an official with a local citizens group pushing for the change told the Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission Wednesday.

Glenn Tennyson, speaking on behalf of Citizens for Economic Development, told the commission that there will be a critical shortage of nurses and nurse practitioners in the near future as the nation's current stock -- whose average age is 50, he said -- prepares for retirement and that Darton is poised to expand their current two-year programs to help meet the demand.

"We're for filling an educational need," said Tennyson, who also serves as vice chair of the Darton Foundation. "Let's make Albany a college town, no ifs, ands or buts ... an educational Mecca."

Riding a wave of support that included a vote Tuesday by the board of directors for the Albany-Area Chamber of Commerce to support the group, Tennyson addressed criticisms that any expansion of Darton's nursing program could hurt existing nursing programs at Albany State University.

"We don't believe this plan would hurt Albany State. We understand they have a program there and we believe cooperation between the two schools would better the city as a whole," Tennyson said.

Calls to ASU officials for comment were not returned Wednesday afternoon.

According to the Georgia Secretary of State's office, between 2006 and 2010 Darton has had 545 students take the board certification exam for registered nurses in Georgia with 466 passing, an 86 percent pass rate.

ASU has had 19 students take the exam with 18 passing, a 95 percent pass rate. Those numbers are for 2008 and 2009. No data was available on ASU's nursing program prior to 2008.

Local businessman Steve Allen, who viewed the presentation during the public meeting Wednesday, said that Albany State -- which also offers a master's degree program for nursing -- could benefit through the expansion if the graduates of Darton's four-year program transitioned into the master's program at ASU.

"I just see it as a win-win," Allen said. "Both institutions could see success from this move."

But with state funding cut and unlikely to be reinstated in the foreseeable future, Tennyson and company could have a hard path ahead in trying to get approval from the Board of Regents for the University System of Georgia, which has denied Darton four-year status in the past based on its proximity to ASU and Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus.

"We're prepared to tell the regents that if you'll just grant permission, we'll (the foundation) pay for it," Tennyson. "Initially all we're really talking about is three full-time and two part-time professors and the startup costs."

Those costs are expected to be about $386,000 annually, he said.