Vermont Combats Nurse Shortage with Faculty Subsidies

Specialties Educators


Starting this month, Vermont's five nursing schools - the University of Vermont (UVM), Castleton State College, Norwich University, Southern Vermont College, and Vermont Technical College - can offer up to $10,000 in student loan repayments to new faculty. According to a 2004 study, local nursing schools are not adequately producing the number of nurses needed to care for Vermonters over the next 10 years, and lawmakers are hoping that the loan repayment program will ultimately increase the number of practicing nurses statewide.

As part of the state's new $1 billion general fund budget, the schools were given $50,000 to start the loan repayment program (a scaled-back amount from the $100,000 appropriation lawmakers had originally intended), but additional future funding is likely. The program is meant to be a companion

program to the state's widely successful student loan forgiveness program that began in 2002 and has given $310,000 to 178 students to help them become nurses.

Noting that nursing programs demand an unusually high 8-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio, UVM officials said that, unless additional faculty are brought on board, local schools will be unable to expand programs and increase the number of students they graduate beyond about 600 annually. "This new program will help significantly in our being able to educate more of Vermont's youth to become nurses," said Mildred Reardon, associate dean at UVM and principal investigator for UVM's Area Health Education Center.

In addition to the current need for more faculty, Vermont's nursing schools are facing a looming retirement crisis - the mean age of the state's 70 faculty members is 53. If younger teachers are not recruited, school programs could soon be devastated by a mass faculty exodus. UVM's Nursing Department chair Gregg Newschwander said, "We will sort of all retire at the same time because many of us are about the same age. So we need to think about building the faculty of the future."

Education officials also pointed out that teaching can be an unattractive career choice for recent graduates because the nationwide nursing shortage has pushed starting salaries for clinical practice well above those of new professors - as much as $15,000 annually. At Castleton, nurses need a master's degree to teach; at UVM, they need a doctorate. And, while students can graduate with as much as $40,000 in nursing school loans, the starting salary for an assistant professor at UVM is $42,000; at Castleton, the starting salary is $32,000. The loan repayment program, Reardon said,

". . . will make it more likely that clinical nurses will become faculty because it will decrease the sting in the pay cut."

According to Vermont Senator Susan Bartlett (D-Lamoille), chair of the Senate Appropriation Committee, "It's a pipeline protection. People are more willing to become faculty if they don't have a whole lot of debt." In her comments, Sharon Moffatt, Vermont's deputy health commissioner, said that the state has not yet figured out how it will distribute the money, but chances are good it will allow multi-year payments to the same professor in certain circumstances. Moffatt continued that the state will work closely with each nursing school, and added, "We will use the money as wisely as we can."

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