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Darton graduates first bachelor's class of nurses

Sixteen nursing students from Darton State College wait to receive their bachelor’s degrees at a commencement ceremony on campus Thursday. The group was the first class to receive a four-year nursing degree from the institution.

Sixteen nursing students from Darton State College wait to receive their bachelor’s degrees at a commencement ceremony on campus Thursday. The group was the first class to receive a four-year nursing degree from the institution.

ALBANY, Ga. -- While commencement ceremonies are not often held in the summer, Thursday’s graduation at Darton State College was a special one.

The school graduated its first students to receive their four-year nursing degrees at Darton’s Cavalier Arena.

“We really wanted them to have a graduation now instead of in December, which is what we usually do for the summer graduates,” said April Reese, dean of nursing at Darton. “It’s very exciting, not just for the nursing department, but for the college.”

Sixteen students received their bachelor’s degrees during the ceremony. In addition, a group of 51 students received its associate of science degrees in nursing and was pinned. Another group of 35 students coming up on their second year was also pinned.

The baccalaureate class that graduated Thursday was admitted last summer, and its members will be followed by 53 who are slated to come into the program in the fall. The four-year degree track is offered online, and in clinical settings, to students on a part-time or full-time basis, and it has so far been utilized primarily by those who earned their associate’s degree at the intuition.

Applications are in already for the up-coming spring term, Reese said.

“We are very excited. It (the program) is expected to grow,” she said.

The motivation for establishing the bachelor's degree track for Darton's nursing program stems, in part, Reese said, from a nationwide goal of increasing the playing field for those in the nursing profession.

"Eighty percent of RNs are to be educated at the baccalaureate level by 2020," she said. "It is a nationwide initiative to educate nurses at a higher level. ... We are on the road to trying to get there.

"Nursing is a field in which you are always learning. It is always changing."

Over the last five years, 1,200 individuals have received nursing degrees from Darton. Last year's collection was the largest group, with 343 receiving associate's degrees.

In the fall, up to 200 are expected to get associate's degrees from Darton in the field, Reese said.

While Darton still has an interest in maintaining the feel of a community college, its goal is to be able to offer more to the student body as a state college, the nursing dean said.

"(The bachelor's program) is certainly, for the nursing program, a huge milestone," Reese said. "... For the college, it opens doors to offer more baccalaureate degrees. There are other programs preparing proposals."

In the meantime, the goal within the nursing department is to maintain the associate's degree track as it is while also working to expand on the bachelor's degree program.

"With the RN-to-BSN program, we may see it grow and even exceed the associate's program," Reese said. "We hope to see that continue to flourish.

"I am very pleased (with Thursday's graduating class); they have done well. They will give us good feedback and tell us what we need to know in terms of revisions. ... I hope they will implement leadership skills and get involved in the community. Nurses are professionals; they become leaders in the professional world, but also in the community. By continuing their education, they are showing those characteristics."

Reese also added that an initial site visit is expected from the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing at Darton in the fall to formally give accreditation to the associate's to bachelor's degree program. Once accreditation is received, it will be retroactive to the graduates who walked on Thursday, Reese said.