The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

Nursing bill would help relieve shortage

It may not be a permanent solution to area nursing shortages or a lack of space in UW-Eau Claire’s nursing school, but Rep. Rob Kreibich, R-Eau Claire, believes a new bill he co-authored will increase nursing faculty at the university.

With Assembly Bill 297, Kreibich hopes to address nursing faculty issues by offering debt forgiveness up to 50 percent for any nursing student who goes on to teach at a state university for at least two years.

“We felt we needed to do something at the state level to encourage more students to go into nursing and stay in the state of Wisconsin,” Kreibich said. “This is another tool to address the ‘brain drain.’ ”

The program works as a financial aid option and, if passed, students would have to apply while still in the nursing program, said Elaine Wendt, dean of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences .

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Kreibich said the average undergraduate debt is $15,000, and this bill would provide an option for students to pay off their loans, as well as decrease faculty shortages.

At Eau Claire, there are 11 vacancies on a staff of 40, Kreibich said, with retirement looming for others.

Wendt said she was “particularly grateful” about the possibilities of the bill, but also said it would not address admission problems.

“The only way we would be able to take more students into our program is for the college of nursing here to have more resources dedicated to them,” Wendt said. “We need faculty lines and we need faculty salaries.”

The Committee on Colleges and Universities, chaired by Kreibich, unanimously passed the bipartisan bill Tuesday. It will be brought to the Assembly floor later this month.

Kreibich expects the bill to “sail through both houses with few dissenting votes,” get Gov. Jim Doyle’s signature and be implemented at the beginning of next fall.

A few years ago, the state passed a loan forgiveness program to nursing graduates who stayed in the state. Like the current bill, it provides 50 percent loan forgiveness.

That proved successful, Kreibich said, and there are probably similar programs ahead in the future.

But Max Von Klein, assistant director of financial aid, said the program provides small amounts of money, as Eau Claire is allocated only $13,000 to spread over four to five students.

“Every little bit of free money is great,” Von Klein said. “The main drawback is there isn’t a lot of money in it, (and) it is not a program many can access.”

Kreibich acknowledged there are strings attached, but said it was an example of trying to come up with creative solutions to a bigger problem.
“We can’t increase nursing graduates if we don’t have the faculty to train them,” he said.

Wendt agreed, saying it wasn’t a full solution to a complex problem, but it will help people to return to school.

“We believe with some financial aid assistance, this may bring people back to education, get a masters degree and then choose to continue on in nursing education,” she said, “so it could help people here who are students, but it can help by increasing the pool of people who are eligible to be nursing faculty.”

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Nursing bill would help relieve shortage