Chancellor James Page on Wednesday announced a five-year plan to double the number of graduating nurses to help address a massive nursing shortage.
“We've got way to many nurses who are going to be retiring very soon and we don't have enough nurses to fill those jobs,” said Jonathan Henry, University of Maine Augusta vice president of enrollment.
There are currently hundreds of nursing vacancies in Maine and the workforce crisis is projected to grow to 3,200 vacancies in the next seven years.
“We're doubling the nursing enrollment in the University of Maine system within four years from 1,900 to 3,800 students,” said Henry.
The UMaine system includes the state's flagship campus in Orono, and six other universities. Each will offer some type of nursing program, or advanced nursing training.
One of the focuses of the five-year plan is aimed at adding nursing classes in the high-need areas of the state -- rural Maine -- so the plan includes on-line and work study programs, and partnerships with local hospitals.
“We have not had the capacity in our clinical programs,” Henry said. “It's been an issue statewide. But now we are partnering with hospitals and health care organization to provide more clinical capacity for that portion of the educational program.”
And low income folks who qualify for the Pell Grant will not have to worry about tuition, if they take classes at the University of Fort Kent or Presque Isle, or any of the 10 University of Maine Augusta campuses or centers.
“We can say to students -- free nursing education for those who qualify,” Henry said.
“That perceived barrier of affordability is gone for a low income student who may have the desire and motivation to become a nurse but they just don't think they can afford it,” he added. “We have eliminated that barrier.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurses in Maine are earning on average $31.68 an hour or more than $65,000 a year.