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BC3 and SRU create programs to address industry shortages

Kristine Kenny, foreground, a faculty member at Butler County Community College, guides students in BC3’s registered nursing associate degree program through an exercise with a simulated patient inside the new Victor K. Phillips Nursing and Allied Health Building on BC3’s main campus in Butler Township on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023. Submitted Photo
Health care, engineering and technology are priorities in Butler County

According to Pennsylvania’s Center for Workforce Information & Analysis, Butler County industries such as engineering, natural gas, elderly care and other residential care facilities are in decline.

In response to the decline, the two Butler County-based institutions awarded more than 130 nursing degrees in 2022 and 2023 and have expanded their health care and engineering programs.

Leaders of Butler County Community College and Slippery Rock University recently shared how they have developed programs that diversify offerings for students and address industry shortages in Butler County and statewide.

“For an institution to be very successful, one needs to diversify its programs, be responsive to the market within its primary region and expand in other ways,” said Amanda Yale, SRU’s chief enrollment management officer.

Nitin Sukhija, associate professor and director of center for cybersecurity and advanced computing at Slippery Rock University shows students some hands on cybersecurity training. Submitted photo

The university began diversifying its programs in 2014 to prepare for the declining number of high school graduates in Butler County that began in 2012, Yale said. Its priority was to develop accelerated programs to help students earn degrees faster and cheaper.

In addition to its nursing program, the university has added health informatics, health care administration management, physician assistance, physical and occupational therapy and online public health and social work programs.

BC3 adds even more nursing programs to Butler County with pathways to become a practical nurse, licensed practical nurse, registered nurse and options for students who earned an LPN at a different school and now want to become a registered nurse. BC3 offers nursing courses at its main campus and its Brockway campus at the community-college price.

The RN program was reaccredited last year by the Accrediting Commission for Nursing Education, and the practical nursing program is so new that it is still in the accreditation process, according to Patricia Annear, dean of BC3’s Shaffer School of Nursing & Allied Health.

BC3 typically has an 83% to 93% pass rate for the state board licensure exam and also offers programs in health care sciences, medical coding, physical therapy and massage therapy, she said.

Leah Barclay, of Saxonburg a student in Butler County Community College’s registered nursing associate degree program, studies outside a simulation room within the new Victor K. Phillips Nursing and Allied Health Building on BC3’s main campus in Butler Township on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023. Submitted Photo

Accelerated programs are most common in the health professions in the form of articulation agreements, which work by opening transfer pathways between schools, allowing a student to complete portions of their degree at both. BC3 and SRU have 46 transfer pathways between them, and more than 200 students transfer from BC3 to SRU each year.

BC3 has articulation agreements with seven universities, including SRU, which allow its students to transfer into a BSN program straight out of its RN program.

The community college also partners with Grove City College in Mercer County. The partnership allows students to take their first year of classes at GCC, then take their second and third years of hands-on nursing classes at BC3 before returning to GCC for their final year to complete their BSN degree.

The state-of-the-art Victor K. Phillips Nursing and Allied Health Building housing the Shaffer School of Nursing and Allied Health on Butler County Community College’s main campus in Butler Township is shown Thursday, Aug. 3, 2023. Tim Shaffer, a former state senator whose $1 million gift to BC3 in 2018 helped to fund construction of the facility and created the college’s Shaffer School of Nursing and Allied Health, passed away at age 76 in May 2022. A $3 million gift BC3 received Friday from Shaffer’s estate is the largest in the college’s 58-year history. Submitted photo

BC3 also has partnerships with Concordia Lutheran Health and Human Care and Penn Highlands DuBois that allow students to get their tuition paid for, if they work for one of those companies for a certain number of years after graduation.

SRU also has articulation agreements with several community colleges and with Widener University Commonwealth Law School in Harrisburg, which allows students to earn law degrees in six years.

SRU has also expanded its engineering programs to offer courses in petroleum, natural gas, industrial systems, civil engineering and mechanical engineering.

The civil engineering and mechanical engineering programs are undergoing the accreditation process, and the university hopes to receive accreditation by summer, Yale said. The other engineering programs are already accredited.

Miller Auditorium and Performing Arts Center at Slippery Rock University. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle

The university also recently renovated its performing arts center and restructured its departments, which brought dance, music and theater into the spotlight.

“Because (the faculty) are so well-known in music, dance and theater in the national, frankly, in the international market,” Yale said, “we are seeing applications pulled across this country, from Maine to California, for these programs.”

Both institutions also offer virtual programs and hundreds of online and hybrid courses designed for students unable to travel to campus and adult learners with busy schedules who are looking to change careers or to earn or finish their degree year-round.

When adult learners began enrolling in SRU’s online programs, most of them already had an associate degree and were looking to advance their career in ways requiring a degree, according to Yale. By the end of next semester, Yale expects those courses will be modified to accept students with less than an associate degree as well.

If a degree is not what students are looking for, BC3 and SRU both offer certificates and endorsements as well.

SRU has also introduced programs in cybersecurity, corporate security, homeland security and safety management to keep up with markets emerging with new technology. Some of these are the result of an agreement between the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education and Google, providing students with training in data analytics, business intelligence and IT support.

“These are 21st century, post 9/11 jobs, and we were able to leverage historical strengths here at Slippery Rock and add programs where we’re seeing a lot of interest from prospective students,” said Michael May, SRU’s director of first-year admissions.

New programs at SRU go through an approval process locally and with the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. The process begins with market research into where the Pennsylvania market is strong and what graduates are getting jobs quickly. The market research is completed by SRU’s Office of Analytics and Decision Support, led by director Kevin McCarthy.

Next, a full systematic proposal is submitted including enrollment projections up to seven years, market analysis and budgeting for resources and faculty, Yale said. When hiring faculty for these programs, the administration aims to hire people who will stay as long as 30 years.

Related Article: SRU's graduate programs feature education, health care opportunities

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