Posted: December 27, 2006

Contact: Doug Anderson,, 651-201-1426

The state colleges and universities' system leads the way in addressing the shortage of nurses

Innovative programs and strategic partnerships with the health care industry to address a shortage of nurses have helped produce a 74 percent increase in the number of new nursing graduates from the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities in the last five years.

In 2005, the system's colleges and universities graduated 3,800 nurses, an increase from 2,186 graduates in 2001. During that time, nearly 14,000 nursing students were graduated from the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities.

By 2006, the system produced 80 percent of the state's new nursing graduates who earned diplomas and two-year, four-year and graduate-level degrees. The system's colleges and universities in greater Minnesota produced a 92 percent increase and the Twin Cities area institutions produced a 42 percent increase in the number of new nursing graduates.

"Partnerships among the health care industry, our colleges and universities, and the workforce development system have proven to be one of the most effective strategies for relieving the crisis in health care employment," said Chancellor James H. McCormick. "This growth is encouraging news, but we also recognize we are still a long way from ensuring that Minnesota will have the well-educated health care work force it needs for the 21st century."

To continue this momentum, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system will seek $3 million from the Minnesota Legislature to:

  • Increase the number of nursing graduates, particularly with four-year degrees, by 25 percent over the next two years
  • Retain more frontline caregivers in Minnesota's long-term care facilities
  • Recruit and retain more underrepresented students in nursing and allied health fields, an
  • Provide instruction for health care students in electronic medical record technology.

"Solving the shortage of health care workers is challenging," said Mary Rothchild, the system's assistant director for workforce development. "That's partly because health care education programs are expensive to operate. Tuition typically covers less than one-third of the cost of providing health care programs in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.

"Without adequate public support, our colleges and universities are unable to hire faculty, provide adequate classroom space and coordinate the clinical part of the program to meet the demand," she said. Many colleges report they have waiting lists of prospective students.

Alleviating the shortage of nurses and other health care professionals will be critical to meeting the needs of an aging population, according to the Healthcare Workforce Collaborative, which focuses on finding solutions to the labor shortage. "As the gap between supply and demand of health care professional services increases, Minnesotans will experience longer waiting periods and limited resources for patient care," the group has said in a recent report.

Three factors - a shortage of qualified nursing faculty, the lack of clinical sites students need to complete their educational experience and low interest in health care fields among students - must be addressed, the group has said.

To that end, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities established a center of excellence known as the Center for Integrated Health Science Education and Practice in November 2005. Led by Winona State University, the center has partners that include six community and technical colleges and several health care organizations. Among the initiatives, the center and five health care providers have launched a new certification course in critical care nursing and created a new curriculum in bioinformatics, which applies principles of information sciences and technologies to make complex life sciences data more useful, with the Mayo Clinic and K-12 schools.

The Healthcare Education Industry Partnership, based at Minnesota State University, Mankato, began a statewide initiative called the Minnesota Community Health Worker Project to reduce cultural and linguistic barriers to health care and to increase the number of health care workers from diverse backgrounds.

Other innovative programs in the colleges and universities include:

  • Minnesota Online, the system's portal for online education, which offers 33 complete online programs for health care professionals starting with practical nursing degrees through such post-master's programs as Adult/Geriatric Nurse Practitioner, Family Nurse Practitioner, Leadership and Management and Nurse Educator
  • A Native American registered nursing program at Northland Community and Technical College in Thief River Falls that incorporates traditional nurse training with culturally specific learning needs and promotes nursing as a career among Native American elementary and secondary students
  • A bachelor's degree in nursing program at St. Cloud State University. The university worked with St. Cloud Hospital, community organizations, regional hospitals and nursing homes to develop the program, which graduated its first students in 2004
  • Cardiovascular technician and sonographer programs at St. Cloud Technical College. St. Cloud Hospital provided funding and in-kind support
  • A licensed practical nursing program offered in the evening by St. Cloud Technical College with the cooperation of Central Minnesota nursing homes
  • A clinical laboratory science program that Winona State University plans to offer to expand clinical education sites for health care student
  • A two-year degree program in pharmacy technology, a high-demand health care occupation identified by the U.S. Department of Labor, at Riverland Community College in Albert Lea and Austin
  • A "fast-track" licensed practical nurse program at Northeast Higher Education District - Itasca Community College in Grand Rapids that trains displaced workers for new career
  • A patient simulation center at Metropolitan State University, run in conjunction with HealthPartners, to provide a high-tech teaching tool for nursing students to gain experience without putting patients at risk.

And, by the fall of 2007, a consortium of Minnesota State University Moorhead; Minnesota State University, Mankato; Winona State University; and Metropolitan State University plans to offer a doctorate in nursing practice to reduce the shortage of qualified nursing instructors.