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Cynthia Reeves | SBJ

A Conversation With ... Amy DeMelo

President, Cox College

Posted online

How has the state’s Fast Track program, which pays for eligible adults to go back to school, impacted enrollment?
We actually have a lot of phone calls from interested students who want to know how it works and how do they apply and what does it cover. For us, it’s our nursing program that it will cover. It’s a wonderful way for someone who maybe was concerned about the cost of education. This is a great way for them to access higher education.

By next year, school officials say Cox College will be the second largest nursing program in the state. How have you expanded facilities and faculty to accommodate the growth?
The State Board of Nursing has allowed us to take up to 400 prelicensure nurses in a year. We need every single one of them. We are the second largest program in the state  –  Goldfarb [at Barnes-Jewish College] would be the first. This facility was completely renovated in 2019. It was scheduled to open March 2020, when we then sent everyone home because of COVID. Students are back now. We updated our classrooms, our technology, recently updated our simulation lab. We’ve had to add faculty and we’re continuing. We’re lucky in that we are able to attract nurses from CoxHealth who also want to teach at the college.

The COVID-19 pandemic was an overwhelming time for health care workers. The record nursing shortage was well documented before the pandemic, but people leaving the field sped up during that time. Are you hearing from hospitals locally that they are experiencing that turnover and need to fill the talent pipeline?
Absolutely. Certainly, the nursing shortage was exacerbated by the pandemic. In addition, students during the pandemic, or maybe would-be students, have said I don’t know if I want to go to school. We have kind of this perfect storm of openings in health care and then, of course, not enough students choosing health care as a profession. Every nurse that we educate has job offers before they graduate – the shortage is so bad. We are asked all the time to take more students and that’s why we grew to 400.

Has that toll on health care workers during the pandemic shifted your recruitment messaging?
We think of nurses at the bedside, and certainly we need bedside nurses, but you can do almost anything in the health care field with a nursing degree. Even if you’re someone that is interested in (information technology), you can still be a nurse that helps in IT. If you’re interested in data and finance, there’s a position within nursing for that. It is a wonderful gateway to a lot of different careers within the health system.

How have your rural satellite campuses aided in recruitment?
We have two, one in Houston, Missouri, and then we have one in Monett. The one in Monett has taken off. We started with three students. I believe we now have 17. That is a night and weekend program. That’s one thing that we found very successful with our satellite campus is if we offer a night and weekend option, because a lot of students work while going to school. This has really helped a nontraditional – and traditional – student access nursing education. We have shortages here in Springfield, and in the rural areas they are even worse.

What recent grant funding have you received?
We just received a $300,000 grant from the state of Missouri through the Missouri State Board of Nursing to help with technology and simulation. Anytime we can apply for (U.S. Economic Development Administration) funding we will, and we work closely with the foundation at CoxHealth in order to see if those EDA grants match up with what we would like to do here.

What other programs do you have?
At the undergrad level, we have an associate of science in radiography, a bachelor’s of science in diagnostic imaging, and then at the graduate level we have a master’s of occupational therapy, a master’s of nutrition and then a family nurse practitioner degree as well, and a psych/mental health family nurse practitioner degree. Starting in 2023, we will have an occupational therapy doctorate.

What is your enrollment?
Our enrollment right now is 875. Where we are seeing the most interest is in undergrad nursing. That is by far our largest program. We have over 600 students enrolled in some type of nursing education. From 2020 to now, we’re down about 10%. We’re similar to other colleges in the area.

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