Pulliam Hall on the Southern Illinois University Carbondale campus is reflected in a puddle following a passing shower in 2017.

CARBONDALE — Plans are now in place for Southern Illinois University Edwardsville to phase out the nursing degree program it offers at SIU Carbondale, making way for SIUC to start its own.

The universities settled on a “teach-out” of SIUE’s two-year program, said SIUE Chancellor Randy Pembrook, with Edwardsville faculty continuing to teach in Carbondale for two more years as rising juniors and seniors finish their nursing degrees.

Incoming freshmen and rising sophomores, meanwhile, will take the pre-nursing curriculum already in place at SIU Carbondale, then do their nursing and clinical classes through SIUC’s new nursing program, as it becomes ready.

To accommodate those students, SIUC must have its program ready by Fall 2020, the first semester that the SIUE program at Carbondale will admit no new upperclassmen.

“I am very confident we will meet that deadline,” interim SIUC provost Meera Komarraju said Monday. “We will work very hard to make that happen.”

However, some factors are beyond the university's control.

Before any students can be admitted to the Carbondale program, its creation must be approved by the Illinois Board of Higher Education, which meets about every two months.

The program did not make the June meeting agenda, said IBHE public information officer Melissa Hahn, because a technical review is ongoing.

That means the soonest Carbondale could have approval is mid-August.

SIUC has responded to two rounds of technical questions from the IBHE since submitting the proposal in March, Komarraju said, and has taken other steps to be ready as soon as it gets the green light.

“I am optimistic we will be on the August agenda,” she said.

The university has already prepared job descriptions for a nursing program director and faculty, Komarraju said, to be posted as soon as the IBHE gives the go-ahead.

It has also hired an academic adviser, Mary Smith, who previously mentored nursing students for SIUE, to an SIUC position overseeing nursing advisement, Komarraju said.

Meanwhile, Pembrook and SIUC Interim Chancellor John Dunn have been in personal communication in recent weeks, they told The Southern, going through SIUC’s pre-nursing undergraduates student-by-student, to ensure each one makes a “seamless” transition.

“That’s a system at its best,” Dunn said.

But rising SIU junior Nicole Wysocki said her transition from SIUC pre-nursing to the SIUE program at Carbondale was marred by bad advisement and misinformation.

“I was never told the Edwardsville program would continue at Carbondale,” Wysocki said. “I was told I was to go to Edwardsville or wait for the Carbondale program.”

Wysocki was without an academic adviser for the entire Spring 2019 semester, she told The Southern, as Smith moved from SIUE to SIUC.

Meanwhile, pre-nursing students were not informed officially of the changes to nursing at SIUC until a May 1 email from Interim Dean Scott Ishman, which Wysocki provided to The Southern.

The delay and confusion caused Wysocki to enroll in classes she didn’t need, she said, wasting time and money.

As a result, she will not be returning to SIUC, she told The Southern.

Via a receptionist, Ishman declined comment Monday morning. Smith also refused to comment.

Dunn acknowledged there could be “glitches” in the transition, but stressed the willingness of administrators to work one-on-one to make sure every student outcome is satisfactory.

“Students know we will not have them be disadvantaged,” he said.

Wysocki did speak with administrators including Komarraju, she said, but still elected to leave SIUC.

“I feel cheated,” she said. “There’s no way I’m going back.”

Even if IBHE approval does not come as promptly as SIUC hopes, Dunn and Pembrook said they'd continue to cooperate on the transition.

“We are here to serve students, and depending on how things unfold, we will do our best working together to ensure we get students to their goals,” Pembrook said at last week’s meeting of the SIU Board of Trustees.

When Dorsey approved the SIUC program in February, he appeared to strike a balance between the interests of the two campuses, by requesting Carbondale not offer an online BSN degree, as it had originally proposed.

That eliminated potential competition with SIUE’s existing online RN to BSN program, which was recently ranked among the best and most affordable in the country by Nursing School Hub.

Since then, SIUE has moved to grow its online nursing presence in Southern Illinois, signing partnerships with Shawnee Community College, Southeastern Illinois College and Rend Lake College, to allow students earning a registered nursing associate degree to complete online nursing classes through SIUE and earn a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing degree in as little as one extra year.

Upon receiving IBHE approval, SIUC too will seek to partner with community colleges and recruit their students, Komarraju said.

“The BSN is kind of the preferred degree right now and many RNs want that BSN degree,” Komarraju said. “We’ve brought our community partners and hospitals together, and they’re very enthusiastic. They’re just waiting to find out when we start.”

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Gabriel Neely-Streit is a reporter for The Southern covering higher education.

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