Two new master's degree programs approved by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board for The University of Texas-Pan American late last month - a master of science in nursing (MSN) program in family nurse practitioner and a master of science (MS) in criminal justice - are expected to admit their first students in fall 1998.
The graduate program coordinators for both degrees are now meeting with committees to determine specific timetables for the programs, including application deadlines.
"We will be designating a first class to start in September 1998," said Dr. Barbara Tucker, graduate program coordinator for the MSN and professor of nursing. "We will accept 10 to 12 students."
Tucker, who is herself a nurse practitioner, said the small number of students in the first class is dictated by the guidelines of the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF), which limits enrollment to no more than six students for each faculty member who is not also doing patient care in the community, and to no more than two students for each faculty member who is working in the community. The university's proposal for the program was written based on the curriculum guidelines and standards of NONPF, building on UT Pan American's existing master of science in nursing.
Tucker, who also does patient care, said the enrollment limits are important because of the "high level of accountability that nurse practitioners have in giving patient care."
"You have to have close supervision of the students," she said. "The limited number of students is a safety factor for both the patient and the students."
Respondents to a survey sent to registered nurses in the four counties of the Valley and to students currently enrolled in the bachelor of science in nursing program indicated that more than half were interested in enrolling in a family nurse practitioner program immediately or within the next two or three years.
"I am thrilled with the program's approval from the Coordinating Board, because of the great need we have here for health care providers," Tucker said. "I feel we will be able to extend health care significantly with graduates of this program, and our graduates will have numerous employment opportunities."
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.
The new family nurse practitioner program requires 48 hours of coursework, including a 31-hour common core shared with the existing master of science in nursing degree, and 750 hours of "hands-on" clinical experience in providing direct patient care through preceptorships with nurse practitioners and physicians in the Valley. 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.
The master of science in criminal justice approved by the Coordinating Board last month is also expected to enroll its first students in the fall.
One unique characteristic of the program is that it is a cooperative degree with The University of Texas at Brownsville.
"The degree will be granted by UT Pan American, with the understanding that the program will be conducted in cooperation with UT Brownsville, coordinated by a graduate program committee and utilizing faculty, courses, library and other resources from both institutions," said Dr. Dan Dearth, chair of the Department of Criminal Justice and acting graduate program coordinator at UT Pan American.
"UT Brownsville stated that it cannot offer the full program at this time, so the Coordinating Board staff recommendation resulted in a cooperative program with only one partner, UT Pan American, authorized to grant the degree at this time," he said. "I don't know of any other programs (UT Pan American has) like this with UT Brownsville."
With the first students expected in September, Dearth has a similar mission to that of Tucker in nursing - plan admission deadlines and get the word out that the degree has been approved.
"Our activity now is getting the word out to agencies that the master's degree is available," Dearth said. "We'll be sending brochures to most of the federal, state and local agencies that we think would have a pool of potential applicants, and we'll be going to some agencies and making personal contact with them now.
"We'll be meeting with UT Brownsville and working together to get this off the ground," he said. "We will be starting the process of accepting applications later this semester and this summer."
He said his department expects to have 15 to 20 students in the first class of students, with a maximum of about 40 in all phases of the program at UT Pan American in the future. The students are likely to be predominantly criminal justice professionals with bachelor's degrees, currently employed in criminal justice agencies and wanting a master's degree for career advancement.
Like the new nursing program, demand is expected to be high - 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.