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May 18, 2018

UMaine System: Investments needed to meet record number of nursing applicants

The University of Maine System anticipates another record year of nursing applications consistent with a four-year growth trend of nearly 20% across the state’s public universities.

But those enrollment increases are hitting a speed bump due to inadequate facilities across the entire university system that are unable to meet the increased demand.

The expanded enrollment is part of a strategic response by Maine's universities to trends in Maine's nursing workforce and increasing demand for health care services across a state that has the oldest median age in the nation.

Even with a nursing enrollment increase of 11% over the last decade, Maine faces a nursing workforce cliff that has been projected to hit the state by the middle of the next decade.

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services, in partnership with the Maine Nursing Action Coalition, sponsored a nursing workforce summit at UMaine last October to identify steps to increase Maine's nursing education capacity and thereby avoid the shortage of 3,200 nurses projected by the middle of the next decade.

This month, the University of Maine System graduated 330 nurses and more than 500 other students earned their degrees or certificates in other disciplines critical to the health of Maine’s communities, including addiction rehabilitation, dental hygiene and physical therapy assistants.

“Despite advancements, constraints on facilities, faculty, and clinical placements prevent the universities from offering enrollment to as many applicants as would be needed annually to begin to turn around the state’s shortage of nurses, which on current trends is projected to swell to 3,200 by 2025,” according to a news release from the UMaine System. “Applicant qualifications, missing prerequisites, and incomplete applications are also factors when making enrollment decisions.”

Nursing leaders from the universities will brief the UMaine System Board of Trustees at its May 21 meeting at the University of Maine at Fort Kent on developing collaborations and nursing program advancements that have been achieved since the nursing summit hosted by the University of Maine System, the Maine Department of Human Services, and the Maine Nursing Action Coalition in October of last year.

Stalled $75 million bond package

The news release advancing Monday’s meeting highlighted how the stalled $75 million University of Maine System workforce infrastructure investment bond includes projects that would expand Maine’s capacity for nursing education. Although the proposed bond received bipartisan support in the Legislature, it was among several bond proposals that lawmakers failed to address before adjourning last month.

UMaine System Chancellor James Page said the universities’ resource challenge is linked to Maine’s overall workforce challenge, which is particularly acute in rural parts of the state.

“These are great-paying Maine careers in every Maine community,” he said. “As we work as One University and with our employer partners to address the nursing shortage, we also look to the Legislature to support this needed investment in our infrastructure so we can continue to expand enrollment to meet student demand for our nursing programs and the demand from hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities for skilled four-year nurses.”

Here’s the breakdown of how that bond package would benefit nursing programs at the state’s public universities:

  • University of Southern Maine: The University of Southern Maine, the state’s largest producer of new nurses, has received nearly 500 applications, including 160 for an accelerated BSN program that starts later this month and is open to those who already have a four-year degree. The $75 million bond proposal would allow USM to double the beds in its nursing simulator so more students could get hands-on experience in acute-care situations before beginning their clinical placements.
  • Northern Maine Nursing — A University of Maine at Fort Kent and University of Maine Presque Isle Partnership: Maine’s nursing shortages are particularly challenging in rural Maine. The University of Maine at Fort Kent has received 370 applicants including 53 for an accelerated bachelor’s nursing degree. Were it to be approved, state funding would be matched by other public and private monies to support the University of Maine at Fort Kent efforts to partner with UMaine Presque Isle to bring four-year nursing to central Aroostook County.
  • University of Maine and the University of Maine at Machias: The University of Maine School of Nursing had already received 1,308 applicants as of May 1 for its bachelor’s of nursing program but has only 110 openings for fall enrollment. UMaine’s Nursing Outreach to Rural Maine initiative includes plans to bring an accelerated RN program to Washington County through the University of Maine at Machias that would create a two-year pathway to a career in nursing for current baccalaureate degree holders. The planned expansion in nursing education capacity is resource-dependent, requiring simulation space to serve students from the region.
  • University of Maine at Augusta: UMaine Augusta reports that 277 aspiring nurses had applied to attend its campus as of May 1. The university has increased its incoming class size by 25% to 80 seats as part of a commitment by the UMaine System to help Maine better meet its nursing workforce needs.

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