BISMARCK - North Dakota State University got the green light Thursday to absorb the Sanford College of Nursing in Bismarck in a deal both sides said will benefit students and help address the ongoing shortage of nurses, particularly in western North Dakota.
"We have a forming crisis in our state, and NDSU wants to be part of solving that, as does Sanford Health," university President Dean Bresciani said.
The state Board of Higher Education voted 6-1 to approve an asset transfer agreement under which Fargo-based NDSU will incorporate the Sanford college into its department of nursing.
The deal is set to close June 30, after which NDSU will own and operate the college under the name NDSU Nursing at Sanford Health.
Sanford announced a memorandum of understanding with NDSU in November, and its board of trustees approved the deal March 6.
Talks between the parties began after the Higher Learning Commission recommended that Sanford College of Nursing explore partnerships as a way to keep its accreditation after the July 2012 merger of Sanford Health and Bismarck's Medcenter One.
Sanford Bismarck President and CEO Craig Lambrecht said Sanford also considered NDSU's ability to provide postgraduate opportunities and labor force development.
"We have triple-digit openings right now for nurses, and we can't meet the needs," he said.
The partnership will roughly double NDSU's number of nursing undergraduate students.
The Sanford college currently has 174 students in Bismarck and is in the process of expanding its enrollment, with 240 students expected by spring 2015, Provost Karen Latham said. Students complete the first two years of the four-year program at Bismarck State College and are dual enrolled in both schools during their sophomore year.
The NDSU department of nursing currently has 245 undergrads, as well as 50 graduate students seeking their nurse practitioner degree or master's in nursing education, university spokesman Steve Bergeson said.
Board of Higher Education member Kathleen Neset cast the lone dissenting vote Thursday, calling it a "huge change" for the North Dakota University System and suggesting that perhaps the state Legislature should be involved.
"I do see this as a positive move, but the details I don't feel have been fully vetted yet," she said.
Neset also questioned how the deal would affect the placement of nurses for clinical training in rural communities.
"We're keenly aware of the need to deploy nursing and nursing staff to the rural areas," Lambrecht said, noting that Sanford announced this week an initiative to extend health care services directly to the oilfields of western North Dakota. "The intent here is to be able to do more, train more."
Lambrecht also pointed out that NDSU will pay Sanford Bismarck only $1 per year for the first three years of a five-year lease agreement for the space at 512 7th St. N. in downtown Bismarck, which he said represents almost a $4 million investment on Sanford's part.
"So, Sanford is ponying up as well. We want this to be a good thing," he said.
A five-year budget projection estimates that tuition revenues and payments from Sanford will cover expenses during the first three years of the program.
However, starting in the fourth year, with the added rent payments to Sanford and associated operating costs for the facility, state funds will be needed to support the program, according to a summary of the agreement provided to the board. Of the roughly $5 million in "appropriated funding" projected for years four and five, about 79 percent of it would come from tuition and 21 percent from the state's general fund, the summary states.
"It is not unusual for state funds to be used in support of programs that are delivered to meet industry needs," it states.