The completion of a multimillion-dollar renovation at Cox College is expected by month’s end, and officials say it will allow the private school to expand its nursing student numbers.
The $6.6 million project touching all four floors of the CoxHealth-affiliated college is adding student gathering spaces and expanding classrooms at the 1423 N. Jefferson Ave. campus.
It’s part of a focused effort by the school to address the ongoing nursing shortage in the health care industry. The college also plans to open satellite campuses next year in Monett and Branson.
The Missouri State Board of Nursing officially approved Cox College’s request last year to increase its nursing student count to 400 from 250.
“It was the largest expansion they’ve ever granted at one time,” said Amy Townsend, the college’s chief nursing administrator. “We’re really focused on doing that well and bringing in students who are ready for nursing and passionate about nursing.”
With currently 960 total students, a multiyear expansion of 10-30 nursing students a year is underway, Townsend said. Among its degree programs are radiology, occupational therapy, nutrition diagnostics and nursing. Nearly 170 students graduated in spring 2019.
The satellite campuses in Monett and Branson will offer an associate of science in nursing degree starting in January 2021, with 10 students apiece accepted to start, Townsend said. Monett’s campus will be located at the Scott Regional Technology Center.
CoxHealth officials previously said Cox Medical Center Branson would house the Branson satellite campus. However, health system spokeswoman Kaitlyn McConnell said earlier this month the Branson site is “still evolving.”
“Some details are still being worked out,” she said.
In Monett, Townsend said two full-time faculty members will staff the campus. That will allow 10 students per teacher – keeping the student-to-teacher ratio within requirements of the Missouri State Board of Nursing.
“Additionally, we did not want to overload that smaller hospital with too many students because we know their priority is taking care of patients,” she said, referring to students’ clinical work at Cox Monett Hospital. “We felt like 10 was a number that would be manageable for that hospital to take.”
The satellite campus is just the latest commitment CoxHealth has made in Monett, as the health care provider broke ground in May 2019 on a new $42 million hospital. It will replace the existing facility, scheduled to open in early 2021, McConnell said.
Townsend said satellite campuses are part of Cox College’s focus on nontraditional students – particularly those who desire to live and work in rural communities.
“We really wanted to shift our focus to saying we want to educate you in your community,” she said. “We want you to stay in your community and be an asset.”
As the new Monett hospital comes online next year, Townsend said a large nursing workforce will be needed to staff it.
“With Monett, we just see a really strong need and a really strong desire from that community,” she said, noting the Scott Regional Technical Center is on the campus of Monett High School and serves 11 high schools in the area.
CoxHealth Director of Recruitment and Retention Celeste Cramer said the school’s soon-to-be completed renovation work at Cox North Hospital would pay dividends for the entire system.
“It will have a really large impact,” she said. “You’re looking at them nearly doubling how many they graduate per year. That could be significant for us. We’ve had significant growth for quite a long time now here at CoxHealth in general. The overall need for nurses just continues to expand.”
According to the American Nurses Association, there will be more registered nurse jobs available – more than 100,000 per year – than any other profession by 2022. Also by 2022, more than 500,000 registered nurses are expected to retire, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 1.1 million new RNs will be needed for expansion and replacement of retirees. Employment of registered nurses is expected to grow 12% through 2028, according to the BLS.
A high rate of registered nurses of retirement age also was a concern in a newly released report from the Missouri State Board of Nursing. Workforce data revealed nearly 34%, or 31,731, of the state’s registered nurses are ages 55 and older.
In some rural areas, that percentage is even higher. According to the report, 38%-48% of RNs in Barry and Lawrence counties are 55 or older.
Lori Scheidt, executive director of the Missouri State Board of Nursing, said the report shows distribution of nurses is not equal across rural and urban areas. According to the report, the rate of nurses working per 10,000 residents is just 60.3, compared with 88.4 in micropolitan counties and 92.2 in metropolitan counties. She said a potential solution is for nurses to be educated in the community in which the school wants them to work.
Nurses completing their education at Cox College are generally staying in the Springfield area, Townsend said, feeding into local employment. School officials say roughly 70% of its nursing graduates end up working for CoxHealth.
“We’d always want to grow our workforce locally, especially if we’re talking about advancing people in their education,” Cramer said.
The college plans to accept up to 400 students by 2023, Townsend said. Faculty also will be added gradually over the next several years.
“We want it to be slow and purposeful, because we want to do it the right way and we don’t want to compromise any education for growth,” she said.
On track to be open for the 2024-25 school year, an Ozark High School activities center is under construction near Tiger Stadium.