Our nursing shortage is too severe to restrict growth of new programs

The Texas A&M University System reportedly has asked the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to approve its plans to establish a nursing school at its Higher Education Center at McAllen. We trust the board will recognize the great need for more nurses, and healthcare professionals at all levels, and give its permission.

The board oversees colleges and universities in the state, and reviews requests to create new programs. Universities within a 50-mile radius can object to such requests, citing unnecessary duplication of programs serving the same regional population.

Reportedly, the University of Texas System has raised such objections. The HEC and UT Rio Grande Valley serve the same South Texas region.

These are our two largest, and most prestigious, state universities and their rivalry, from academics to athletics, is so old that it can be considered a tradition. Both systems have earned their prestige and the competition between the two often is healthy and beneficial; it motivates both to continue pursuing excellence and innovation, and brings attention, both statewide and across the nation, to higher education within Texas.

There can be times, however, when the competition might be ill-advised, and hindering efforts to reduce our great and chronic shortage of healthcare professionals is such a case.

Concerns about duplication are valid. A given region might have enough students interested in a particular program or degree to justify the instructors, classes, labs and other resources needed to support it, but not enough for two or more competing programs. Diluting the students among multiple schools would be unnecessarily costly to each, and to taxpayers who support any state institutions that might be involved.

It’s worth noting that South Texas College, which also offers baccalaureate degrees in nursing, has not objected to Texas A&M’s request, and actually endorsed it.

STC officials surely see that the need for nurses, and educational opportunities in South Texas. are so great that a new program likely won’t reduce enrollment in any Valley nursing programs.

The need for nurses in Texas is acute and getting worse. According to the Texas Department of Health and Human Services, the state currently has about 251,000 registered nurses and 85,000 licensed vocational nurses; by 2032 we’re expected to have about 292,000 RNs but need nearly 350,000, and have about 79,000 LVNs but need about 92,000. The greatest shortage is expected to be in the Gulf Coast region, with less than 43% of the demand for nurses met.

When objections to new programs are raised, the Coordinating Board encourages the affected universities to try to address the issue themselves first. We encourage UT and Texas A&M officials to do so.

Another nursing program isn’t likely to affect enrollment at UTRGV or any other UT school, where applications far exceed seats. Competition can be healthy, but not when it affects the ability of residents in the Rio GrandeValley, and across Texas, to get the health care they need. We hope UT officials will work for the greater good, and drop its objections to a new nursing program in the Valley.