Colleges: many nursing applicants, too few seats

div style=”float: left;”>

Despite the need for nurses state and nationwide, local colleges are turning away applicants due to a lack of teachers. (file photo)

JACKSON – (AP) Though there's a statewide and national shortage of nurses, Mississippi colleges have to turn away hundreds of qualified applicants for nursing degrees.

Program directors say the big problem is lack of money to pay and recruit teachers.

The Clarion-Ledger reported that community colleges face the most severe limitations. For instance, East Central Community College in Decatur could accept only 72 of 485 qualified applicants.

Itawamba Community College received 850 applications and accepted 150. At Northwest Mississippi Community College in Senatobia, 456 applied with 156 admissions.

Some four-year institutions in the state are turning away nearly half their applicants.

The University of Mississippi Medical Center's bachelor's degree in nursing drew 350 applications for this fall's 140-student class.

Enrollment is increasing, but not quickly enough, said Pat Waltman, associate dean for academic affairs and accreditation at UMC's School of Nursing.

“There are just not a sufficient number of qualified nurses out there,'' she said. A master's degree in nursing is needed to teach undergraduates, and a doctorate is needed to teach master's-level courses.

Many working nurses don't have the time and money to get those degrees, she said.

“In Mississippi, we have about twice as many graduates from associate degree nursing as from baccalaureate or higher degree programs, and only about 15 percent continue with their education to earn the bachelor's degree,'' Waltman said. “Only about 5 percent of those go on to earn a master's or doctorate degree.''

Bridge programs available throughout the state are popular. They offer a short, online option for a registered nurse to earn a bachelor's or, eventually, a master's. Nurses can often complete them while working.

But teaching doesn't pay as much as nursing, officials said.