By Chris McGuinness
Killeen Daily Herald
Ask college students in Texas about their job prospects post-graduation, and the answers will more than likely contain caution, if not outright anxiety.
However, one group of students knows their planned occupation continues to grow rapidly: nursing.
State statistics show that the demand for well-trained nurses is so great that it is outpacing Texas college enrollments and graduation rates. By 2020, the state will need more than 25,000 registered nursing graduates, according to a report by the Texas Center for Nursing Workforce Studies.
While Texas nursing schools graduated nearly 10,000 students during the 2009-10 school year, the nursing workforce center reported that they will have to increase their enrollments by at least 270 percent to meet the demand in nine years.
"There are many different reasons for the increase (in need)," said Kelda McMullen-Fix, an assistant professor at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor's Scott & White College of Nursing. "Some of it has to do with the number of the baby-boomer generation beginning to retire. At the same time, you are also going to see a lot of nurses retiring as well."
Americans age 65 or older will make up nearly 20 percent of the population by 2030, according to a report by the Institute of Medicine, a nonprofit organization.
The report, titled "The Future of Nursing: Focus on Education" states that the nation's health care needs are shifting to care for chronic and long-term conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension and arthritis, which will require skilled nurses for long-term care of patients.
In Central Texas, college nurse training facilities are expanding to meet the escalating needs. UMHB is constructing a new $20 million facility for its nursing program, while Central Texas College opened its $23 million facility for nursing students in January.
Both new campus buildings mirror the growing nursing enrollments at the two schools in the last several years.
Nursing enrollments at UMHB's bachelor's degree program increased an average of 10 percent each year between 2007 and 2010, according to statistics from the Texas Board of Nursing, which tracks nursing program enrollments across the state.
"(UMHB) allowed us to be directly involved in the planning of (the nursing facility) and that growth was kept in mind during the process," said Sharon Souter, dean of the Scott & White College of Nursing.
Because the university admits nursing students twice a year, enrollment numbers for 2011 are not yet available. However, Souter said the program admitted at least 100 students this fall and anticipated a growth rate of 10 to 15 percent each semester.
At CTC, the Texas Board of Nursing reported the community college's two-year program grew by roughly 10 percent each year between 2008 and 2010.
For the fall 2011 semester, there are 196 nursing students in the associate's degree program, said Bruce Vasbinder, a spokesman for the community college.
"Future enrollments are difficult to project, but the trend appears to be a continued increase in the (associate's degree) program," he said. "The demand for nurses continues to increase in all aspects of health care, so we expect the enrollments to increase as well."
Temple College, which also offers nursing programs, saw its enrollment increase from 109 students in its two-year program in 2007 to 137 students in 2010.
A two-year nursing degree allows graduates to take the state licensing exam. However, several of those nursing graduates continue their education and obtain four-year degrees. Souter said many nursing students with associate degrees enroll at UMHB to finish their bachelor's degree, with about 40 percent arriving from regional colleges, such as CTC and Temple.
"I am very happy with the job those colleges are doing," said Souter. "They are preparing them very well."
At CTC, the new, 86,000-square-foot nursing building has about $1.3 million in high-tech equipment and furniture, while the new three-story facility at UMHB, which is scheduled to open in 2013, will measure more than 76,000-square-feet. Both buildings were designed to accommodate future student growth.
In a field with such daunting demand, Souter said UMHB nursing students have little trouble finding jobs, and the school has a 100 percent placement rate. "Most of the time, our senior students have job offers before they even graduate," she said.
But nursing school administrators and professors said it's not just the abundant availability of jobs attract students to join the profession.
Nursing is a portal career, with graduates able to use their skills and education wherever they go, said McMullen-Fix, adding that profession also appeals to "second career" students who are seeking well-paying jobs as they seek a profession to bridge between their middle-working years and retirement.
Regardless of their reasons, McMullen-Fix said nearly all the students who enter into the nursing programs share on one thing in common: a passion for the job. "(Nursing) appeals to them because they want to help people and care for others," she said.
Contact Chris McGuinness at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7568.
By the numbers: Area nursing students
Central Texas College: 191
Temple College: 109
University of Mary Hardin-Baylor: 183
Central Texas College: 155
Temple College: 122
University of Mary Hardin-Baylor: 225
Central Texas College: 174
Temple College: 120
University of Mary Hardin-Baylor: 245
Central Texas College: 195
Temple College: 137
University of Mary Hardin-Baylor: 289
Source: All information was gathered from the Texas Board of Nursing annual reports on enrollment, graduation and admissions, 2007-2010.