Amid workforce shortage, University of Northern Iowa plans new nursing program

The University of Northern Iowa is setting up a new undergraduate nursing program — and Iowa's other public universities don't see it as competition, but as an answer to a critical workforce need.

The Iowa Board of Regents earlier this month approved a new bachelor of science in nursing program at Northern Iowa. The university announced it has hired Nancy Kertz as the program's executive director and chief academic nurse administrator.

Kertz is the vice president of academic affairs and provost at Mercy College of Health Sciences in Des Moines.

Nancy Kertz, provost and vice president of academic affairs at Mercy College of Health Sciences in Des Moines, is the executive director of the University of Northern Iowa's new bachelor of science in nursing program.
Nancy Kertz, provost and vice president of academic affairs at Mercy College of Health Sciences in Des Moines, is the executive director of the University of Northern Iowa's new bachelor of science in nursing program.

Northern Iowa President Mark Nook expects the new program will be ready for the fall of 2024, according to a news release from the university. About 24 students are expected in the first class, while a full cohort of 96 students would generate enough tuition revenue to exceed the program's costs.

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What is the need for nurses in Iowa and elsewhere?

The Board of Regents said in a news release that the new nursing program would fill a vital workforce need.

"The need for nurses in Iowa and around the country is profound and often forces medical centers to operate short-staffed. Existing nurses work on the fringes of burnout and wait times have ballooned under these shortages," the release said. "The need for more nurses is obvious."

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of people employed as registered nurses is projected to grow 6% from 2021 to 2031. Approximately 203,200 job openings are projected each year over the decade to replace workers who change careers or retire.

The American Nurses Association has said the country faces a national nursing shortage, exacerbated by long hours and grueling conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The regents' release also cited what the American Association of Colleges of Nursing reported in April: Over the past five years in the Midwest, more than 8,000 qualified applicants to generic bachelor of science in nursing programs have been denied admission. Reasons include inadequate classroom or clinical site capacity, faculty shortages and budget cuts, according to the association.

The regents said Northern Iowa's program could draw from the pool of denied applicants, as well as students who don't apply at all because they can't afford tuition at a private school in Iowa.

Kertz told the Board of Regents' Academic Affairs Committee this month that the program would focus on attracting transfer students and high school graduates, but there also are people considering nursing as a second career.

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ISU, Iowa leaders support the new program

Documents submitted for the Board of Regents' consideration included letters of support from the leaders of Iowa State University's and the University of Iowa's nursing programs.

Iowa and Iowa State already have bachelor of science in nursing programs, but leaders at both universities said they support Northern Iowa's program.

Dawn Bowker, Iowa State nursing education director, offered to consult with Northern Iowa to develop and implement its program. She called it a "bold and necessary step to improve the nursing workforce and the health of Iowa communities and beyond."

Julie Zerwic, dean of the University of Iowa College of Nursing, said Northern Iowa's program would not adversely affect enrollment in Iowa City.

"We do face a faculty shortage throughout the state and will work with UNI to develop strategies to offer pathways to graduate degrees at the University of Iowa in order to prepare additional faculty," Zerwic said.

Other university leaders also supported the new program, including Jonathan Wickert, Iowa State senior vice president and provost; Kevin Kregel, the University of Iowa's executive vice president and provost; and José Herrera, Northern Iowa's executive vice president and provost.

Like the University of Iowa's program, Northern Iowa's bachelor of science in nursing program will prepare students to earn their nursing license and enter professional practice.

The bachelor of science in nursing program at Iowa State is for registered nurses to advance their careers. The University of Iowa also has an online equivalent.

Northern Iowa's program will be hybrid online and in person, though the majority of its courses, including all clinical and laboratory courses, will be in person on campus.

It will spend $2 million for infrastructure and one-time costs for facilities, including to build clinical simulation, clinical skills and assessment and movement labs and make modifications to existing office space for faculty, according to documents submitted to the Board of Regents.

The university estimated another $1 million to $2 million will be needed from tuition, fees and endowed gifts to make the program "solvent and vibrant." More tuition revenue would allow for the program's growth.

Pete Moris, university spokesperson, said there is no defined timeline for expanding the program to its full capacity of 96 students, but "as Dr. Kertz and the rest of our team get the program ready for launch in fall 2024, certainly they are working to scale the program for rapid growth potential."

Phillip Sitter covers education for the Ames Tribune, including Iowa State University and preK-12 schools in Ames and elsewhere in Story County. Phillip can be reached via email at He is on Twitter @pslifeisabeauty.

This article originally appeared on Ames Tribune: University of Northern Iowa plans new undergraduate nursing program