Putting community first: growing nursing program enrollments at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University

Last updated on: June 22, 2023

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clock icon 6 minute read

Do you know what makes a great nursing program? As the US experiences a nationwide shortage of nurses, here’s how one university – working with us at Wiley University Services – is growing its nursing program while providing a vital service to the local community.

Founded in 1887, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) is a public, historically Black university in Tallahassee, Florida. It enrolls nearly 10,000 students from across the US and more than 70 countries and is ranked #104 in the 2022 U.S. News & World Report rankings – the highest-ranking public HBCU for three consecutive years.

And with a rich legacy of providing access to high-quality, affordable higher education programs, FAMU helps students achieve their dreams. The university embraces all aspects of diversity, while empowering communities through innovative teaching, research, scholarship, partnerships, and public service.

A vigorous focus on nursing programs

The US needs more nurses. And faced with an aging population and more demand for healthcare services, that need is greater than ever. In fact, an analysis from McKinsey predicts that the nationwide shortage could reach as high as 450,000 by 2025 and advocates for new pathways to nursing education and medical careers. As the shortage continues, universities need to offer different options to ensure they’re serving the needs of tomorrow’s nurses.

Our undergraduate State of the Education Market 2023 report shows that the number of schools with health graduates has stayed steady since 2015. However, continued graduate growth following the COVID-19 pandemic means the average number of health graduates per institution has increased by 11%.

FAMU’s School of Nursing, established in 1904, is the oldest continuing baccalaureate nursing program at a historically Black institution in the US. With such a robust tradition in the field, FAMU wanted to grow and develop its nursing programs to meet the needs of future generations of nurses.

The solution? They partnered with us to expand degree offerings, launching three new online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree program tracks in the future. We also helped them increase enrollment in the Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN) online degree program and an MSN online program with tracks in Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner and Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner in 2022.

So, what makes a great nursing program?

Dr. Linda Edwards, Associate Dean and Professor for Undergraduate Programs, and Dr. Lisa Gardner, Associate Professor and Associate Dean of Graduate Programs at FAMU School of Nursing, have a checklist:

Inclusivity: Nurses need to understand the population they serve. Students come from various social and economic backgrounds, so inclusivity is critical to the program’s success.

Flexibility: With many students already in the workplace, programs should be developed with working nurses in mind so they can continue in their roles while gaining further education.

Different starting points: Allow students to easily step out and back in if needed. For example, FAMU RN-BSN and MSN online programs have fall, spring, and summer starts.

Serving diverse populations is a big focus of FAMU’s mission. “We try to educate our students on providing care to all populations,” explains Dr. Edwards. “It’s threaded in the curriculum. We teach them to recognize implicit bias. Part of becoming a clinician is recognizing the bias in their community and then figuring out what they need to work on mitigating that.”

Community is also at the heart of FAMU. Their nursing students provide care to traditionally underserved areas, working closely with allied health professionals and providers to make a real difference in patients’ lives. Cultural sensitivity forms a vital part of FAMU’s programs, and above all, respect is key.

FAMU’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program contains that strong focus on community. Students are required to complete a community-serving project in their local area. From public health departments to community health centers and homeless shelters, students (with help from faculty) identify organizations to work with so they can make a positive impact in their community. This helps students gain real hands-on experience in typically underserved communities.

Who do FAMU’s nursing programs serve?

Working in partnership with us, FAMU has expanded its nursing program degree offerings to give students more choices than ever before.

The BSN at FAMU is available for both traditional pre- and post-licensure learners. We support the post-licensure option, which is 100% online and is for licensed RNs who already have their associate’s degree. As such, the program is ideal for students seeking a bachelor’s degree to grow professionally and leap into a more senior role. And unlike many associate’s programs, leadership skill development is a key component of FAMU’s RN-BSN online program.

At the graduate level, FAMU offers two tracks as part of their Master of Science in Nursing (MSN): Adult Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner and Women’s Health (WHNP). While both tracks are online, they feature an on-ground component, offering flexibility to those who value the convenience of online learning but also want hands-on experience. Students must have a BSN to pursue these Nurse Practitioner track options. Students applying for the post-master’s program may transfer up to 22 credits based on their advanced practice specialization.

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Why online learning?

Firstly, students like the option of graduating from a reputable school, no matter where they’re located. Dr. Gardner loves that students can live anywhere and complete their clinical. Afterall, the goal is to meet students where they are due to the flexibility needs of working adults.

“There has also been a push from our nursing profession to have associate degree-prepared nurses complete their BSN degree because many of those nurses want to move on to achieve a graduate degree,” adds Dr. Edwards. “This helps the movement of advancing those registered nurses that are already in the workforce as well as meeting the demands from employers.”

And again, flexibility matters. As Dr. Edwards says, “When I went back to school for my advanced degree, I had to do it on-campus because there weren’t online options. As a practicing nurse, you could go from working a night shift to sitting in a classroom for hours. It’s exhausting. Online provides the flexibility those working nurses need.”

And the results?

Nursing programs at FAMU are thriving! “Before the partnership, I believe that our highest graduating class in the MSN was 10 students. Now, we have increased to 90 applicants a year and 30 admissions per start,” says Dr. Gardner. “We have to look at increasing admissions, so it’s just wonderful.”

The BSN at FAMU is now fully accredited through Spring 2026. “From six students in the fall of 2021, we now have 30. That’s something to be proud of because we’re ensuring community representation is there,” says Dr. Edwards. “Wiley also provides advising, and they assist us with the registration process, including transcripts. That has been a huge help to us, as faculty can focus on our strengths in teaching. It makes sense for an online program to have this support.”

Effective marketing, enrollment services, recruitment, and student retention support have all contributed to the growth of nursing at FAMU, whose programs benefit the entire community. After all, more diverse healthcare is stronger healthcare. The services nurses provide their local communities are vital – especially those in typically underserved areas. As nursing degrees and jobs in healthcare are on the rise post-COVID, the positive impacts of programs like those at FAMU are clear.

Looking for ways to serve more learners and your community? Whether you’re building the next generation of nurses, want your programs to reach more learners, or better fulfill your community’s job market needs, we’re here to help. Contact us to learn how our university support services can clear the way to reach your goals.

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