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Darton reaches a milestone

Sixteen graduates walked down the aisle in Cavalier Arena at Darton State College on Thursday during a rare mid-summer graduation ceremony.

These were the first students to graduate from Darton with bachelor's degrees.

College officials said that students who graduate in the summer normally have to wait until December to take that long walk in cap and gown. Because of the uniqueness of this class of nursing students, though, school officials didn't want to wait.

"It's very exciting," said April Reese, dean of nursing at Darton, "not just for the nursing department, but for the college."

Darton has come a long way since its founding as Albany Junior College. Gaining the four-year nursing program was another big step in the college's continuing evolution.

The program is on the cusp of taking off in a big way. Darton officials say that another 53 students who entered the nursing program last fall are following this inaugural class. Expectations are that the program will continue growing.

Certainly there is an anticipated market for these graduates. Reese noted that four of every five RNs are expected to hold bachelor's degrees in nursing within seven years.

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

So far, most of the participants in the four-year program already have associate of nursing degrees from Darton, which has a robust program that has, on average, awarded 240 two-year degrees for the past half-decade. Fifty-one students received associate of nursing degrees at Thursday's ceremonies, and anothert 200 are expected earn associate's degrees in the coming fall semester.

"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."

The nursing program likely is just the first of expanded offerings from Darton.

"(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."

The University System of Georgia Board of Regents will ultimately determine whether any of those proposals will become programs. But as Darton's mission evolves, this class -- and the steps they took Thursday -- will always be remembered as a milestone for the college.