Higher Ed Bill Includes Sanders Provision to Boost Nursing Schools

BURLINGTON, August 8 - Nurse training programs will be expanded under higher education legislation that Congress passed and President Bush is expected to sign.

Senator Bernie Sanders, a member of the Senate education committee, authored the section of the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 that would address the nursing shortage by authorizing $3,000 for each additional student colleges enroll in nursing programs. Congress approved the bill on July 31. President Bush is expected to sign it by August 15, when the current higher education law expires.

"My hope is that this provision will result in an additional 10,000 or more students graduating from nursing schools each year at a modest cost," Sanders said.

The senator was joined at a press conference here by Betty Rambur, dean of the University of Vermont College of Nursing and Health Sciences, and Vermont Technical College President Ty Handy.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services foresees a shortage of more than 1 million nurses by the year 2020. Even with such an enormous need for nurses, U.S. nursing schools turned away more than 41,000 qualified applicants in 2005. If community college and associate degree nursing programs are included in these numbers, 150,000 well-qualified applicants are turned away each year from nursing programs.

Under the new training program, colleges and universities will receive a $3000 grant for each additional student they admit, money that will help pay for the increased costs required to teach and train that student. The appropriations process will begin as soon as the new Congress convenes in January, he noted.

"In the midst of the enormous problems our country is now facing with high energy costs, foreclosures, bank failures, and global warming, it is imperative that we not push aside another major crisis, which in many ways is getting worse, and that is the health care crisis," Sanders said.

At Castleton State College, which offers a nursing program, President Dave Wolk welcomed the measure.

"Castleton is delighted with the hard work of Senator Sanders and his colleagues in addressing the nationwide nursing shortage," Wolk said. "Nursing is our most expensive program due to the very close, personalized interaction that is necessary among nursing students, faculty and clinical supervisors, and tuition alone does not cover the cost of our very successful program, with some of the highest nursing exam test scores in the country. The Sanders provision will allow many colleges such as ours to expand their programs in order to address this critical nursing shortage."