The president and CEO of St. Lawrence College is pleased with the Ontario government’s decision to give colleges the option to deliver standalone nursing degree programs.
The change is expected to produce more qualified nurses to fill key shortages in numerous communities.
“This is terrific news for students and health-care professionals,” SLC president/CEO Glenn Vollebregt said. “It makes nursing more attractive to students who wish to study and pursue careers in their home communities.”
Ontario Minister of Colleges and Universities Ross Romano earlier this week announced a new nursing education policy that he said will give students more choice when it comes to accessing a high-quality education to pursue a career in registered nursing.
The four-year program at St. Lawrence College has been offered for years in collaboration with Laurentian University (Sudbury), but that will be changing. Vollebregt said in a Thursday phone interview SLC will be working with the ministry on the “process to wind that (collaboration with Laurentian) down, (and) to offer our own standalone nursing program.”
Standalone programs at SLC’s three campuses – Cornwall, Brockville and Kingston – probably won’t be ready this fall, the president said, and would likely begin in the fall of 2021. Regardless, it should be a smooth transition.
“We’re one of the few colleges already offering all four years of the program,” he said.
The announcement was localized on Friday afternoon in Cornwall, the nursing wing on the third floor at Moulinette Hall, where MPP Jim McDonell and other dignitaries spoke to students and others. His colleague Steve Clark, was making the same announcement at St. Lawrence’s Brockville campus, which Vollebregt attended.
“We’re here celebrating a new policy that recognizes the evolving and significant role Ontario’s colleges have in nursing,” McDonell said. “Our government wants to help Ontario students have more choices regarding high-quality education, and help them find rewarding careers in nursing.
“This new policy will allow institutions to have greater autonomy and flexibility over their programming, while maintaining excellence in nursing education.”
The SLC program for years across its three campuses has had impressive numbers, and currently there are about 630 degree nursing students, with about 150 graduates per year.
“It’s one of the largest nursing programs in the province (and) I expect our graduation rates to continue along that line,” Vollebregt said.”We’ve had fairly consistent enrolment in what’s a highly competitive program – 590 to 640 students at any given point in time.
“It’s a tremendous program for our college.”
Last spring at the Cornwall campus, there was a big class of 2019 – 45 graduating students.
SLC offers nursing programs at all its campuses, and it recently upgraded learning facilities to include modern technical training equipment and clinical stimulation labs.
“We’ll continue to deliver the best possible nursing education,” Vollebregt said, noting SLC faculty have a minimum of a master’s degree, with half of the school’s core faculty either having or working on their Ph.D.
“(The announcement) recognizes that colleges are providing education at a degree level.”
The college said the government decision will create a more diverse nursing workforce that can respond more effectively to patients. The college said student population mirrors the general population, and that college is often the preferred post-secondary destination for first-generation students and Indigenous students.
The change was applauded across Ontario; since 2000 the province has required any college wishing to offer a nursing degree program to partner with a university. Colleges have said the requirement has created unnecessary costs and bureaucratic hurdles which have discouraged some students from going into the profession.
To become a registered nurse in the province, and a member of the College of Nurses of Ontario, students must obtain a BScN degree.