Northern Illinois University

NIU Office of Public Affairs

Brigid Lusk
Brigid Lusk

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News Release

Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-9472

February 6, 2007

Illinois Board of Higher Education awards $450,000
to expand NIU School of Nursing enrollment, labs

DeKalb — Northern Illinois University’s School of Nursing was awarded $450,680 today to increase the number of students it prepares for careers in nursing, a profession in dire need of qualified workers.

Members of the Illinois Board of Higher Education voted this morning in Springfield to approve the grant, part of a $1.5 million allocation established by Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the state legislature to expand and improve nursing programs in the state.

“We are totally delighted, excited and energized,” said Brigid Lusk, chair of the NIU School of Nursing. “The key thing is that we will have 40 more students entering every two years, and at the end of the day, that’s what is really important: forty more people who will have beautiful careers ahead of them and advance health care in Illinois.”

“I’m proud that the board recognizes the excellence of our School of Nursing and has chosen to amplify that excellence with this generous grant,” NIU President John G. Peters said. “Illinois residents look to our colleges and universities to lessen the local impacts of the national nursing shortage, and this grant strengthens NIU’s ability to take a lead role in minting more nurses with a first-class education.”

NIU will use the state’s dollars to inflate the freshman class by almost 60 percent this fall and to put a greater emphasis on the recruitment and retention of racial and ethnic minority students, who will make up 20 percent of each new cohort.

A new cohort of 40 students will gain admission every two years in a program housed at Aurora’s Provena Mercy Medical Center and Elgin’s Provena Saint Joseph Hospital. Students who have completed pre-requisite courses accelerate through 2.5 years of nursing courses in only two years by studying during summers and intersession periods.

NIU’s school typically accepts 70 students each semester, she said, although the pool of applicants is enormous.

“We always advise people to apply by Feb. 15, and we know we have a very healthy pool of applicants already,” Lusk said. “It’s tragic when there are qualified people but not enough money, faculty and facilities.”

One tenure-track professor and two instructors will join the faculty.

NIU’s popular RN-to-BS completion program will grow by 20 percent through a new cohort of up to 30 students at the suburban sites.

Meanwhile, the school will develop a Human Patient Simulation (HPS) Laboratory on the DeKalb campus that imitates clinical experiences to make up for a critical shortage of appropriate education sites. The lab should become operational as soon as possible, but possibly after the fall term begins.

Such a lab also allows faculty to teach more students than in an actual clinical site while saving money by reducing faculty travel and the level of supervision needed. Each HPS unit costs around $50,000, Lusk said, and NIU will purchase three.

NIU’s $450,680 provision comes from one of two state-funded grant programs created in 2006 to recruit, train and retain nurses in Illinois.

Expansion grants, such as the one awarded to NIU, support high-performing nursing schools. Grants are renewable for up to three years based on sustained program progress and evaluation results. Other nursing schools receiving expansion grants equal in value to NIU’s are Loyola University and Harry S. Truman College.

Improvement grants support nursing schools in need of program improvements aimed at raising institutional pass rates on the National Council Licensure Examination.

(The state’s other new initiative, the Nurse Educator Fellowship Program, already named NIU School of Nursing professors Judith Hertz and Donna Plonczynski to its first class.)

Shirley Richmond, dean of the NIU College of Health and Human Sciences, said the IBHE grant offers an exciting opportunity to better serve the area and its students.

“We always regret that we must deny students entrance into our nursing program due to lack of resources and space, and while this expansion will not solve the problem, it will allow us to begin to address this situation,” Richmond said.

“We also are pleased that we can continue our interaction with the Provena hospitals as partners in this endeavor,” she added. “Our school of nursing has excellent administrators and faculty who enjoy working with their colleagues in the region to help solve our regional health issues, and this grant is but one example of that type of interaction.”

Lusk said she believes the NIU School of Nursing’s commitment to taking its training off-campus, and the accompanying recruitment of minority students, lifted its application into the top three.

“I think we were a little ingenious in going out to the community and maybe serving some people who wouldn’t have this opportunity outside our reaching out to them,” she said.

“There is a shortage of space for nursing students throughout the state, and there’s maybe less of a waiting list at the private universities, which of course are very expensive,” she added. “This gives these good students a chance at a reasonably priced, solid education.”

NIU will recruit African-American and Hispanic students from Aurora and Elgin, where their populations are larger and the partnering hospitals are located.

Senior nursing students from the DeKalb campus will travel to the suburban sites on a regular basis to provide peer-tutoring. The grant also will purchase 40 laptop computers to compensate for the lack of computer labs at the hospitals.

“There is absolutely a need for more minorities in health care,” Lusk said. “It’s just a historical fact that minorities haven’t entered the health professions, and that’s beginning to change, but we need it to change more speedily. The numbers don’t equal the patients who need their services.”

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