The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved two new master's degrees for The University of Texas-Pan American on Jan. 23.
Meeting in Austin, the board approved a master of science in nursing (MSN) degree with a family nurse practitioner track and a cooperative master of science (MS) degree in criminal justice that will be operated in conjunction with UT Brownsville.
The criminal justice master's degree, which was approved by The University of Texas System Board of Regents last May, combines the resources of both universities in offering the first cooperative degree between the two institutions.
Dr. Dan Dearth, chair of the Department of Criminal Justice, said UT Pan American could enroll its first students as early as fall 1998.
"We're estimating that demand will be very strong," Dearth said. "We're looking at having 15 to 20 students initially and topping out at about 40 in all phases of the program (at UT Pan American).
"Our students will be predominantly criminal justice professionals with bachelor's degrees who are currently in the system and who would like to get a master's to be eligible for higher level administrative positions within their criminal justice agencies, either federal, state or local," he said. "In fact, right now in federal probation it is impossible for students with only a bachelor's degree to get an entry-level job.
"We also expect a smaller number of students who plan to go on to a Ph.D. in criminal justice."
Dearth said he gets calls on a daily basis from prospective students interested in the program, which requires the completion of 36 semester credit hours of master's-level courses in criminal justice.
Each student will be admitted to a "home institution" - UT Pan American or UT Brownsville - that will be responsible for supporting him or her in the initial stages of the program. Subsequently, the student, with advice from the graduate program director, will file a detailed plan of study that will include identifying the institution from which the majority of the courses will be taken. That designated institution will then assume responsibility for the student and will award the degree.
For some courses in the program, interactive television will be used to offer the class at both UT Pan American and UT Brownsville simultaneously.
Although this will be the first master's degree offered cooperatively between the two campuses, UT Brownsville and UT Pan American have a long history of working together; the Brownsville campus first opened in 1973 as a satellite campus of then-Pan American University.
The Coordinating Board also approved the master of science in nursing degree with a family nurse practitioner track for UT Pan American. The Board of Regents approved the proposal in August.
The curriculum for the new track builds on the existing master of science in nursing program, and it includes a minimum of 750 hours of supervised clinical practice. Students admitted to the program will be required to have a minimum of one year of experience as a practicing registered nurse prior to admission.
Dr. Barbara Tucker, graduate program coordinator and associate professor of nursing, who is herself a nurse practitioner, said the advanced practice nurse is "an essential component of delivery of primary health care to the individuals in the Valley."
A nurse practitioner is a registered nurse who has advanced education and clinical training in a health care specialty. Nurse practitioners can serve as primary health care providers for children and adults during health and illness.
Tucker said nurse practitioners work in collaboration with a physician, and can greatly extend the number of patients being seen in both rural and urban areas.
UT Pan American's new family nurse practitioner track will require 45 to 48 semester credit hours of work, depending on whether the student chooses the thesis or non-thesis options, and more than 700 hours of "hands-on" clinical experience in providing direct patient care through preceptorships with nurse practitioners and physicians in the area.
Tucker said the job outlook for nurse practitioners is excellent.
"There are openings all over the Valley, and the pay is very good," she said. "There are numerous opportunities right now for nurse practitioners in rural clinics."