COS nursing program doubles down

Nursing and Allied Health main office at College of the Sequoias.(Rigo Moran)

College of the Sequoias doubles their resident nurse training program amid health worker shortage to help meet the needs of local hospitals

VISALIA – In an attempt to combat a local nursing shortage, the College of the Sequoias (COS) has more than doubled its capacity and enrollment of its Registered Nursing program, increasing from 50 students last fall to 110 students as of this current semester.

This increase was requested by the Tulare Kings Healthcare Partnership, who works with both the school and local hospitals to maintain relations and ensure everyone is well-staffed and well-funded. According to Dr. Jonna Schengel, Dean of Nursing and Allied Health, CTE and Workforce Development at COS, the program couldn’t have expanded without their help.

“The growth would not be possible without the cooperation with other agencies, their personnel and the fact that our faculty are terrific,” said Schengel in a press release. “The COS RN Program has an excellent reputation and the hospitals want our students.”

While multiple factors played into the cause of the shortage, she said it was the local hospitals’ desire for nurses with specialized degrees that initially led COS to reduce their program’s numbers.

“When the economy tanked back (in the late 2000s), we weren’t getting a lot of funding,” Schengel said to The Sun-Gazette. “During those years, many of the hospitals only wanted BSN (Bachelors of Science) nurses… so we felt like it was okay to decrease our program, because we assumed that the BSN programs would increase, which didn’t really happen.”

Before the economy tanked and the COS nursing program lost their funding, they had similar numbers as to what they’re at now, meaning this recent increase is really a return to what the program used to be.

“I don’t think anybody intended to cause a shortage,” Schengel said. “Within a few short years, the hospitals realized that only wanting bachelor nurses wasn’t sustainable.”

Now, with the help of local hospitals as well as Fresno State, COS will be able to graduate around 200 new nurses a year, a number which Schengel feels will offset the shortage.

“We’re (enrolling) about 110 students a semester, but we only graduate a part-time group every other semester,” she said. “So we’ll graduate 110 students one year, and 90 the next year.”

The addition of a part time option is one of the reasons why the COS nursing program was able to add more students this semester. It will also be key in the future should the demand for nurses increase or decrease.

“We’ll use the part time program when we need to grow, and then we can put it on hold when we don’t need it,” Shengel said. “I suspect our traditional enrollment is going to stay at 80 per year.”

Even with increased funding from the Tulare Kings Healthcare Partnership, COS’s facilities weren’t able to accommodate all the new students, which is where Fresno State and local hospitals came into play.

According to COS’s press release, the Executive Director of California State University Fresno South Valley campus, Luz Gonzalez, “graciously offered classrooms and office space to meet the growing workforce demand in healthcare.” Shengel voiced her gratitude in the release.

“COS is thankful to have strong partnerships not only with our local healthcare employers, but also with CSU Fresno,” she said. “Both provide multiple education and career options for our graduates within the industry.”

Shengel feels that the program’s growth will also be a great opportunity for local students, as their program is affordable and effective.

“Another reason we really wanted to grow was to increase the opportunity for local students to get into our nursing program,” she said. “We have a really, really high pass rate on the licensing exam… and our program is cheap, just $7,000 total, whereas the programs… from the private colleges are in the hundreds of thousands.”

Ultimately, Shengel feels the quality of COS’s nursing program comes down to its staff, who she’s very grateful for.

“We couldn’t do this without our faculty,” she said. “So please compliment them, they should get a big shout out.”

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