ALBANY, Ga. -- The Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia voted Tuesday afternoon during a monthly work session to approve a four-year nursing program at Darton College.
Darton submitted a "mission change" request in February, asking the Board to add a four-year bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) to the associate's nursing degrees currently offered by the two-year college.
That request flew through Academic Affairs (Committee) earlier in a morning session and was sent to the full board for approval.
"I am very appreciative of the Board of Regents for the approval of changing Darton's mission from a two-year college to a state college," Darton President Peter J. Sireno said. "I am also appreciative for their vote to approve Darton's first baccalaureate program, RN to BSN.
"I would like to thank the community, Citizens for Economic Development and our local legislators, particularly Ed Rynders. Without their support this would not have been possible."
Three other two-year institutions -- Georgia Highlands College in Rome, and in metropolitan Atlanta, both Atlanta Metropolitan College and Georgia Perimeter College -- joined Darton in being approved to offer limited baccalaureate degree programs.
"The Board's actions reflect the evolving role of our access institutions as we identify specific job-related and economic development needs throughout the state," said Rob Watts, chief operating officer for the University System of Georgia. "Officials at these institutions have made a strong and data-driven case to the Board for the mission change and for the needs in these communities for specific baccalaureate degree programs."
The Board of Regents issued a statement regarding the rationale for the approval of Darton's request.
"In 2006, the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that Georgia would have a deficit of nearly 38,000 registered nurses by 2020, absent any action by state leaders. Further, a 2010 report from the Institute of Medicine indicated the need for each state to raise the credentials of its nursing workforce towards the baccalaureate degree to improve quality of care, and reduce medical errors and costs.
"A review of registered nurse job openings at area hospitals in Darton's service area found that approximately 232 registered nurse positions exist at various hospitals and health-related agencies. Darton's new nursing program will help to increase the production of nurses in the region, complementing the existing efforts of both Albany State University and Georgia Southwestern State University's nursing degree programs."
Rynders reached by phone, described his mood as "ecstatic."
"This was the result of a lot of hard work and a long process," said Rynders. "I am pleased that the University System of Georgia got engaged and looked at all the facts in reaching this decision. This is good news for all of Southwest Georgia. It levels the playing field and that's a good thing."
The Board's decision will probably not sit well at ASU, which was vehemently opposed to Darton's getting a four-year nursing program. Rynders, however suggested it's time to move on.
"Too many times citizens -- and not just in terms of state colleges -- suffer because of turf wars," Rynders said. "Now it's time to put the people first."
Officials at Albany State declined comment, but Stephen Snyder, spokesman for Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus, which also already offers four-year nursing degrees, did respond.
"To be honest, we aren't excited about it, however we can understand Darton wanting to grow its program." Snyder said. "We have an excellent four-year nursing program here. We aren't excited about the Board's decision, and we can live with it."
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. Their efforts paid off Tuesday.
"We are very proud that the Board of Regents took a look at our data and checked and double-checked it," CDE spokesman Glenn Tennyson said. "In the near future, they could see that the state is going to face a severe nursing shortage. The average age of a nurse in Georgia right now is 50 years old. This will help fill that need. Plus it's going to be good for Albany. In the next 10 years we can see a $250 million to $300 million annual impact just from Darton alone.
"It might be hard for some people to see it right now, but this is going to be good for everybody."