SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — Shepherd University’s nursing education program enrolls 30 to 40 nursing students every semester.
Starting this year, academically, socially and economically disadvantaged students might be able to finish the difficult four-year nursing degree programs because of a $1 million federal grant.
Shepherd’s nursing education center in Erma Ora Byrd Hall opened in 2007 at a cost of $10 million. It has the capacity for 60 students each semester, but only between 30 and 40 students enroll, said Sharon K. Mailey, director of Shepherd’s nursing education department.
One of every four students who do enroll drop out of the two-year pre-nursing program, she said.
The reasons include that some enrollees graduated from low-performing high schools and enter the pre-nursing program ill-prepared for its math and chemistry requirements. Others come from low-income families or are the first in their families to attend college, Mailey said.
Some change from pre-nursing to easier majors or drop out altogether, she said.
The problem is not enough students, Mailey said.
“There’s never enough quality students. We don’t want to lose students because they can’t do math or chemistry.”
A four-year nursing degree at Shepherd requires two years of pre-nursing and general studies followed by hands-on training in junior and senior years.
About 94 percent of nursing school students graduate, she said.
The grant will support 180 students over three years, offering tutoring and mentoring and directing students to resources such as counseling and financial aid. Students benefited by the grant receive a $200 stipend every two weeks so they can spend more time on their studies rather than working, Mailey said.
It also allows the university to fill two staff positions — academic improvement and social support specialists.
Nursing was the No. 1 major for incoming freshmen this fall, Mailey said.
The $1 million Nursing Workforce Diversity grant, as it’s called, was announced jointly Tuesday by U.S. Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, both D-W.Va. It’s aimed at increasing the number of minority and disadvantaged pre-nursing students and improving health care in the Northern Shenandoah Valley, according to a release.
University President Suzanne Shipley said in the release that “Supporting the education and training of nurses right here in West Virginia is critical to ensuring that we have qualified health care available, especially in our most rural areas.”
Rockefeller said in his release that, “Nurses are the backbone of hospitals throughout West Virginia. This funding will make it possible to train more West Virginians, particularly those from rural areas.”