New Jersey became the 17th state to provide loan forgiveness for nursing faculty in January when Acting Governor Stephen M. Sweeney signed the Nursing Faculty Loan Redemption Program Act into law. The state senate passed the bill unanimously, declaring a nursing workforce shortage of “crisis proportions” caused, in part, by a shortage of faculty members at the state’s schools of nursing. The state assembly passed it earlier in the month.
The new law calls for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation New Jersey Nursing Initiative (NJNI) to work with the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority to create incentives for persons to enter graduate nursing education programs by providing loan redemption in exchange for full-time employment in the state as a nurse faculty member.
“In New Jersey, as elsewhere, we are facing a debilitating shortage of nurse faculty, and as a result many of our schools of nursing are being forced to turn away qualified students who want to become nurses,” said Susan Bakewell-Sachs, Ph.D., R.N., P.N.P.-B.C., program director for NJNI and dean of the School of Nursing, Health, and Exercise Science at The College of New Jersey. “With so many nurses at or near retirement, the population aging and chronic diseases affecting more people, our state’s health care system will be strained to the breaking point. We commend lawmakers for passing the Nursing Faculty Loan Redemption Program to address this problem now, before it worsens. This law will have lasting benefits for our state’s health care system and its residents.”
The program will address the nurse faculty shortage by providing incentives for individuals to pursue masters and doctoral degrees in nursing. The minimum educational requirement for nurse faculty in New Jersey is a master’s degree in nursing (MSN), as set by the New Jersey Board of Nursing regulations. Upon graduation, the program will provide loan redemption in exchange for full-time faculty employment for five years at a school of nursing in the state.
Since launching in May 2009, NJNI, a multi-million dollar, five-year initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce Foundation, has named 29 RWJF New Jersey Nursing Scholars. The Scholars receive full tuition and fees, a $50,000 per year stipend and a laptop computer, as well as mentoring and other support. They attend New Jersey masters and doctoral level nursing programs.
The New Jersey Collaborating Center for Nursing at Rutgers reports that there are 567 full-time nurse faculty working in the state. Their average age is 55, and 74 of them are expected to retire within five years. More than half the state’s nursing schools already limit student enrollment due, in part, to limited faculty lines. For doctorally prepared faculty in particular, it can be challenging for schools to find qualified faculty applicants.
The goal of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation New Jersey Nursing Initiative (NJNI) is to increase the number of nurse faculty in the state, so there will be enough faculty to educate the next generation of nurses.