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El Paso Community College a Model for Nursing Education Expansion

The El Paso Community College celebrated its fortieth anniversary with the opening of the August 2009 school year. Forty years ago the creation of a college board was approved by the voters, but a companion funding measure allowing for bond sales lost in the electoral process.

In a scheme reminiscent of the country's initial Constitutional voting strictures, only property owners were allowed to vote on the bond measure. The new community college board joined with another district in a suit against this voting limitation and prevailed in the U.S. Supreme Court. While waiting on the judicial process, the board took out loans and opened in 1971 using spare rooms in a hospital and high school classrooms during the evening.

Today the El Paso Community College (EPCC) has five campuses serving about 25,000 college students and an additional 8,000 participants in continuing education programs. The administration and board are justifiably proud of their accomplishments, but according to College President Richard Rhodes they are still in the expansion mode. "In just seven years we've doubled the number of graduates we have," he says. A new campus is slated to open near the proposed Beaumont Army Medical Center, primarily to make collegiate access available to military members and their dependents.

It is the areas where the college has expanded into new educational options and technologies that offer the most rapid expansion possibilities. The campuses have opened up programs that allow high school students to enroll in some college classes and earn dual credits. Says Rhodes, "Seven years ago we had about 100 students taking dual credit and now we have 3,000."

The other intriguing option that is still in the planning stages is a collaboration with the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in El Paso. Currently EPCC offers an associate's nursing degree that allow student to take the registered nurse (RN) license exam. The goal of a team effort between Texas Tech and EPCC would be "��a seamless transition for our students from their associate degree nursing program on into a bachelor of science nursing program and a master's program," according to Roberts. Students in this program could earn their RN status and begin working while continuing their academic pursuit of a BSN or an MSN degree.

In 2007 there were 692 educational programs for RN to BSN degrees in this country. Virtually all of them serve nurses who are returning to school after a number of years. Also in that year there were 850 accredited programs for an associate's degree in nursing designed for RN status and 709 programs for a bachelor's degree in nursing.

Based on these statistics the RN to BSN option is very popular, widely pursued and generally treated as an educational option pursued separate from and well after achieving RN status. The program at EPCC recognizes the current need for a BSN in order for a nurse to advance career opportunities and has created a program to make the entire effort both manageable and timely.

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