How One Hospital Helps Staff Nurses Pay for Advanced Academic Degrees: An Innovative Funding Program Is Helping to Create a Highly Educated Nursing Workforce
Haag, Vicki, American Nurse Today
Have you made the career-changing decision to go back to school to pursue an advanced nursing degree? If so, you're probably excited, determined, a little nervous ... and broke! You might be anxious about how you'll be able to afford tuition, books, and fees. You might even be questioning your judgment, wondering how you can even think about starting another degree program when you have little or no money to pay for it.
In 2006, some of the nurses at Riverside Medical Center in Kankakee, Illinois found themselves in this situation. Fortunately, the chief nursing officer (CNO) was passionate about nursing education and practice, and believed many nurses wouldn't hesitate to pursue bachelor, master's, and doctoral degrees and national certifications if only they had the "start-up" funding.
NEF to the rescue
To help solve the funding problem, the CNO and other hospital leaders sought an innovative funding source whose money nurses could access before their first classes began. They decided to write a fund-raising proposal to the hospital's foundation to raise $500,000 over 3 years, to support nurses wishing to pursue advanced degrees and national certifications. The foundation board accepted the proposal, and leaders created the Nursing Excellence through Education Fund (NEF).
One key element of NEF was to ensure money would be available to nurses for start-up costs, including tuition and fees, before they begin their first course. (In contrast, the hospital's existing tuition-reimbursement program available through the organization's human resources department provided funding only after the nurse completed a course.) NEF eligibility was opened to all nurses in the hospital. Eligibility criteria included "good standing" employment status, meaning the applicant couldn't be in a corrective action process. Also, nurses had to maintain a degree-program grade point average of C or higher, or (as appropriate) take the certification exam within 12 months of receiving NEF money. They weren't required to maintain employment in any of the hospital's divisions after receiving NEF money to complete a degree or certification. (In contrast, this was a requirement for the hospital's tuition-reimbursement program.)
Giving nurses a choice
Next, leaders set about to determine which schools, degree programs, and certifications nurses could pursue through NEF. Should NEF funding be limited to a few designated schools and degree programs? Or should nurses be allowed to choose the school and degree program? Leaders opted for the "menu" approach, giving nurses their choice of school and nursing or non-nursing degree, as long as the school and program were accredited. Nurses could use NEF money for tuition, fees, and textbooks.
Certifications were the next consideration. Should nurses be able to apply for NEF money for both nursing and non-nursing certifications? Leaders decided NEF funds could be used for any certification, as well as preparatory classes and materials, travel to classes and test sites, and testing fees.
NEF selection process
Leaders decided that members of a patient care-focused shared-governance structure, the Professional Development Council (PD Council), would develop structures and processes for NEF application, approval, and selection. PD Council members included direct-care nurses from various patient-care areas and several nursing and non-nursing leaders. The council met monthly to approve NEF applications. Peer approval was essential to the NEF selection process.
In 2007, the PD Council and Magnet[R] office staff created NEF policies and procedures, an application form, the application process, and selection criteria beyond initial eligibility requirements. The PD Council also set NEF award amounts. Each nurse could receive up to $2,700 per calendar year ($900 per trimester) for degree programs. …