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Regents to rule on Darton bid

ALBANY, Ga. -- The day of reckoning is officially on the calendar.

At its regular monthly meeting next Tuesday, the Georgia Board of Regents will either approve or deny Darton College's request to implement a four-year nursing degree program at the two-year school.

The issue has been controversial to say the least. More than a year ago, a local group, Citizens for Economic Development, began pushing for a four-year nursing and allied health program at the community college.

"We're for filling an educational need," said CED spokesman Glenn 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."

The proposal, however, has received a chilly response from Albany State University, which already provides a four-year nursing program.

In an opinion piece in The Albany Herald last December, Joyce Y. Johnson, dean of the College of Sciences and Health Professions at Albany State, said ASU already had the four-year program to address the need for more nurses.

Tennyson is certain Regents approval will mean great things for Albany, despite ASU's objections.

"I think the people at Albany State are putting their own agenda over the greater good of the community," Tennyson said. "Other than hurting another institution's feelings, I see no reason why the board will not approve Darton's request."

The BOR agenda item, which recommends approval of the proposal, reads:

"Establishment of a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN), Darton College.

"Recommended: That the Board approve the request of President Peter Sireno that Darton College ("DC") be authorized to establish a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN Completion), effective May 10, 2011.

"Abstract: Pending Board of Regents approval, DC plans to offer a Bachelor of Science in Nursing during the 2013-2014 academic year in response to the needs of Darton's stakeholders in southwest Georgia. The proposal was developed in response to a community demand for more highly educated nurses and will meet the needs of local students who choose to not pursue a baccalaureate degree in nursing at other four-year institutions/state universities. The program was developed for existing holders of a registered nurse license and associate's degree to complete a bachelor's degree.

"Need: Several national and state reports have documented the shortage of nurses in various health care settings. Georgia's situation mirrors the national predicament. In 2006 the Georgia Department of Labor reported that the state would need an additional 20,000 nurses. In addition, studies have documented the aging nursing work force population. A review of registered nurse job openings at area hospitals in Darton's catchment area as well as its satellite offerings of the associate-level nursing degree reveal that approximately 232 RN positions exist at various hospitals and health-related agencies. Other institutions in the southwest quadrant of the state such as Albany State University and Georgia Southwestern State University currently offer a bachelor's degree in nursing. Darton College seeks to further increase the pool of baccalaureate-prepared nurses by introducing a bachelor's degree completion program on its campus."

In addition to unhappiness at ASU, the Legal Defense Coalition for the Preservation of Public HBCUs issued a scathing news release denouncing the proposal and hinted at legal action.

"In 1978, as part of a federally mandated higher education desegregation plan, the state of Georgia (and the Board of Regents) was required by the federal government to submit and comply with a desegregation plan," the release said. "Among the requirements were that the state and the BOR (Regents) eliminate unnecessary academic program duplication among black and white institutions in the same service areas.

"We contend this proposed action would continue to perpetuate a deficiency in the mandates of Title VI by failing to add programs that would enhance the HBCUs, eliminate unnecessary program duplication and attract greater white enrollment."

LDC spokesman John M. Clark said he was expecting the Regents vote.

"We're not surprised by this," Clark said. "What we are surprised by is the Board's seemingly total disregard of the fact that Albany State and Georgia Southwestern already offer top-notch nursing programs, so there is no need for duplication of services.

"In addition, this is not sound financial management by the board to put money into a new program when putting it into the existing programs would make more sense. We'll do what we need to do at the appropriate time."