In a statement Darton College president Dr. Peter Sireno said it's a good day for the school.
"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. I am also appreciative for their vote to approve Darton's first baccalaureate program, RN to BSN," Sireno said. "I would like to thank the community, Citizens for Economic Development, and our local legislatures, particularly Ed Rynders, without their support this would not have been possible."
The enthusiasm is rubbing off on some of the schools nursing students as well.
"Darton has always had a good reputation of their nursing program and by making it a four year program, it will bring a lot more students to the campus and bring a lot more opportunity to the area," said Marcus Miller.
"I think that would be easier for a lot of students in the area. Especially students that live in Albany," said Liberty O'Neal.
The decision brings about the possibility of competition between academic institutions. Albany State University already offers a four year nursing degree. Now there is question as to whether or not Darton will draw off of their enrollment. We reached out to ASU but they were not available for comment.
"I feel like competition is a good thing for everybody. It will give people another alternative route to go as far as furthering their education," said Darton student Jim Arnold.
In a press release from the University System of Georgia:
Four of the University System of Georgia's (USG) current two-year colleges are set to offer limited bachelor's degree programs, following approval today by the Board of Regents to change their institutional mission to that of a "state college."
The four institutions are Darton College in Albany, Georgia Highlands College in Rome, and in metropolitan Atlanta, both Atlanta Metropolitan College and Georgia Perimeter College.
"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 USG. "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 state college sector was established in 1998 and categorizes two-year, associate-degree granting institutions that have been authorized by the Board to offer a limited number of four-year baccalaureate degree programs. The University System's other institutional categories are: research universities, regional universities, state universities, and two-year colleges. With today's actions, there are now 12 USG institutions in the state college sector.
Two of the mission changes â" at Darton College and Georgia Highlands College â" reflect the regents' ongoing focus on meeting the growing need and ongoing shortages of healthcare professionals in Georgia, specifically in nursing.
Both institutions currently offer associate's level nursing programs. The Board's approval will allow them to offer a bachelor of science in nursing degree, targeted to existing holders of a registered nurse license and associate's degree who wish to complete a bachelor's degree.
In 2006, the Health Resources and Services Administration of the US 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.
Georgia Highlands College's new nursing degree will help to meet the needs for nurses in north and northwest Georgia and serve the educational needs of local students who for time and financial limitations cannot pursue a baccalaureate degree outside the region served by the College.
In the Atlanta metro region, the change in mission status for Atlanta Metropolitan College, located in south Atlanta, and Georgia Perimeter College, which serves Atlanta's northeast and eastern suburbs, will result in very different targeted bachelor's degree offerings.
Atlanta Metro will offer its first bachelor of science with a major in the biological sciences. This degree is specifically designed to increase the pipeline of students who earn degrees in STEM disciplines â" science, technology, engineering and mathematics. While the program as approved today by the Board does not include a teacher certification component, College officials have future plans to add this. Program graduates will have entry-level opportunities for immediate employment and offer the foundation for those students who seek a master's or higher-level degrees.
At Georgia Perimeter, the Board has authorized the establishment of two bachelor degree programs: a bachelor of arts with a major in sign language interpreting and a bachelor of science with a major in health informatics.
While Georgia Perimeter currently offers an associate and certificate level program in sign language interpreting, a new requirement by the field's national professional organization and certifying body that goes into effect in July 2012 will require candidates who wish to sit for the Registered Health Information Administration Certification exam to have earned a bachelor's degree or higher. The new bachelor's degree program at the College will ensure program graduates are eligible for certification.
The U.S. Bureau of Statistics in 2008 projected a need for additional health informatics specialists, who manage patient information systems. Students will be able to enroll in the program at any of the College's five campuses.
The start date for the five new bachelor's degree programs at the four institutions will vary, dependent upon review and approval from the relevant accrediting organizations.