SJSU in the News: San Jose State Plans New Nursing Doctorate

SJSU Planning to Offer Doctorate in Nursing

Originally published in the San Jose Mercury News 1/26/2011

By Lisa M. Krieger

San Jose State is preparing to open its doors next year to nursing students seeking to earn the highest degree in academia: the doctorate.

Marking a significant moment in the history of the California State University system, the university’s board of trustees voted Wednesday to create a doctorate in nursing practice, called a DNP, on several CSU campuses — including a joint nursing program at SJSU and Fresno State.

For 40 years, California’s master plan for higher education has made doctorates the sole domain of the University of California. Then, a decade ago, CSU added one in education. And last year, it successfully petitioned for the right to award them in physical therapy at five campuses and nursing practice at three campuses.

While the UC campuses will continue to offer doctor of philosophy, or Ph.D, degrees, which are primarily research-focused, CSU seeks to grant a more practice-focused advanced degree.

“This is a real response to real need. It is important that we help meet the labor needs of the state,” said John Douglass, a senior research fellow at UC Berkeley’s Center for Studies in Higher Education.

“The lines (between UC and CSU) are definitely blurring,” he said, “but I think some marginal expansion of CSU’s authority makes sense in certain areas of graduate training.”

At SJSU, the new doctorate “will enable its graduates to be at the forefront of implementing research,” said Jayne Cohen, director of SJSU’s nursing school.”In addition, this new program will vastly add to the cadre of nursing faculty well-qualified to educate new nursing professionals.”

She did not outline how SJSU and Fresno State would collaborate in the pilot program. Before being finalized, the program needs professional accreditation and approval by the university’s chancellor.

More nurses needed

The U.S. Bureau of Health Professionals projects that California will have a severe shortfall of about 100,000 nurses in 10 years. The state already ranks last in the nation in the number of nurses per capita — 589 per 100,000 residents, compared with the U.S. average of 825.

A big obstacle to closing this projected shortfall has been a limited number of slots available in California nursing programs — which is tied to a limited number of people qualified to serve as nursing faculty.

But CSU’s advanced degree programs could pose new problems: funding, with a potential squeeze on undergraduates, said Judith E. Heiman of the Legislative Analyst’s Office in Sacramento.

“Does it make sense for CSU to offer these degrees? Perhaps,” Heiman said. “Does it make sense at this time, when campuses are having difficulty accommodating demand for existing undergraduate programs? That’s a judgment call we’d like the Legislature to weigh in on.”

In the bills authorizing CSU to offer each of these degrees, the Legislature showed concern about these programs crowding out undergraduates. And it specified that each campus must fund the programs out of its existing budget.

“CSU is facing a budget proposal that not only lacks growth funding, but reduces base funding significantly,” Heiman said. “Under these circumstances, it is not possible to use state or institutional resources for developing and starting a new program without affecting existing enrollment.”

Catch-up mode

The California Nurses Association would prefer expansion of nursing programs at the bachelor’s and master’s level.

While the organization welcomes new programs to train nurse educators, “even more importantly, we need to train greater numbers of bedside nurses to meet the needs of California’s patients,” said the association’s Liz Jacobs. “We call for more resources to be put into all levels of nursing education.”

The current nursing shortage has its roots in massive layoffs in the 1990s, she said, as the introduction of the “managed care” system shortened patient stays and reduced the need for nurses.

And potential students disliked “the de-skilling of the work force, as RNs (registered nurses) were replaced by LVNs (licensed vocational nurses) and assistants,” Jacobs said. And work got harder, because patients in the hospital tended to be very sick.

“Now, we’re in a catch-up mode,” she said, because of new laws that require more nurses, as well as the retiring of an aging work force.

Despite plenty of eager and academically qualified candidates, Jacobs notes that there are not enough seats in schools to educate every student.

The SJSU-Fresno State program, planned to start in the fall of 2012, will be one of three future DNP programs. A second jointly run program is planned by CSU campuses in Fullerton, Long Beach and Los Angeles. The third will be based in San Diego.

A doctorate in physical therapy, planned for the summer of 2012, will be offered at CSU campuses in Fresno, Long Beach, Northridge, Sacramento and San Diego.

Before creating any more CSU doctoral programs, Douglass urged the state to conduct a careful analysis of its labor needs — then decide the best way to structure higher education.#