LA JUNTA — A new University of Colorado Colorado Springs partnership will help Otero Junior College and four other southern community colleges develop nursing professionals to serve their rural communities, thanks to a $2.22 million grant from the Colorado Health Foundation. The gift is the largest in the history of the UCCS Beth-El College of Nursing and Health Sciences.
The Southern Colorado Rural Nursing Education and Practice Collaborative launched at Beth-El will enable Otero Junior College nursing students to earn Bachelor of Science in Nursing degrees in their home communities, taking courses at OJC, online and utilizing state-of-the-art Cisco Telepresence conferencing technology.
Jim Rizzuto, president of Otero Junior College, said that the partnership is just one more example of how colleges in southern Colorado are partnering to meet the needs of area students.
“Allowing students to pursue a bachelor’s degree in nursing through the use of technology will assist students in pursuing their academic goals without leaving home,” he said.
The program and the Colorado Health Foundation grant address a critical problem. The U.S. nursing shortage is projected to grow to 260,000 by the year 2025, and Colorado’s nursing vacancy rate is double the national average. Rural southern Colorado faces extreme challenges recruiting advanced practice nurses and nursing faculty. The associate nursing degrees the community colleges offer do not alone qualify graduates for teaching or nurse practitioner roles — impeding these communities’ ability to provide high-quality health care to their citizens.
The UCCS program aims to increase the number of nursing professionals who serve rural southern Coloradans by at least 45. The program will incorporate state-of-the-art Cisco Telepresence conferencing technology to foster greater academic connection for distance learners via high-definition video and other interactive features. UCCS is the first college in the nation to use this technology in its classrooms.
“It is extremely important to streamline nursing education to create access for our rural community college partners and citizens, and enable available and affordable health care services in the future,” said Beth-El Dean Nancy Smith.
The program aligns with a core priority of the Colorado Health Foundation, which has made several grants this year that focus on improving access to care in Colorado’s rural counties.
“This is an innovative nursing education project with strong partnerships that will address critical nursing workforce needs in southern Colorado,” said Colleen Church, a program officer with the Colorado Health Foundation. “Ultimately, we think this is an incredible opportunity to keep their nursing talent in southern Colorado in order to maintain and increase access to needed, high-quality care.”
The colleges invited to participate in this program are Otero Junior College, Lamar Community College, Pikes Peak Community College, Pueblo Community College and Trinidad State Junior College.
The grant also will support equipment for the Clinical Simulation Learning Center, to help Beth-El faculty “teach the teachers” and provide competency-based testing of students earning clinical training hours required for certification.
The Colorado Health Foundation works to make Colorado the healthiest state in the nation by investing in grants and initiatives to health-related nonprofits that focus on increasing the number of Coloradans with health insurance, ensuring they have access to quality, coordinated care, and encouraging healthy living. For more information, visit www.coloradohealth.org.