Through Act 9 — passed by the Legislature this session, signed into law February 3 by Governor Mike Beebe (D), and immediately effective — Arkansas now provides nursing student loans of up to $20,000 a year. In addition, the program has been extended to include nurses seeking postgraduate degrees to qualify them as nurse educators. Previously, the Nursing Student Loan Program limited the loans to $6,000 and was available only to students in RN or LPN programs.
Representative Tracy Pennartz (D-Fort Smith), who spearheaded the legislation, said she learned from Arkansas Nursing Board executive director Faith Fields that the lack of qualified nurses to fill nursing school educator positions is contributing to the state?s nursing shortage. Therefore, she suggested revamping the loan program to include educating faculty.
Carolyn Mosley, dean of the University of Arkansas at Forth Smith (UAFS) College of Health Sciences and a member of the NLN Board of Governors, also was instrumental in bringing the issue to the forefront. When the Legislature?s Health and Safety Committee met at UAFS, Mosley testified about the difficulty in recruiting faculty. In her testimony she said, "Arkansas is in a unique situation because few people are available because there are few nurses with degrees above associate degrees, and at a minimum, a master's degree is required for teaching, and preferably a doctorate." Mosley noted that UAFS has more applicants than it can accept into its nursing program due to limited faculty. She praised the loan program's expansion, saying it ". . . will enable us to train more educators so we can increase enrollment."
Under the program's loan terms, students will have their loans forgiven at the rate of one year's loan for each year they work in Arkansas as a nurse or in a state nursing education program. The loan program is administered by the Arkansas State Board of Nursing and funded through state and federal appropriations, gifts, grants, bequests, and donations.