Education

University of Iowa Nursing College modernizes amid industry challenges

Nurses in demand nationally as college adds and upgrades classrooms

University of Iowa College of Nursing Dean Julie Zerwic speaks Thursday during the dedication of the recently completed renovation of the UI College of Nursing building in Iowa City. The 35,377-square-foot renovation included the ground floor, the first floor, half of the second floor and parts of the third and fourth floors. The total cost was $11.8 million. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
University of Iowa College of Nursing Dean Julie Zerwic speaks Thursday during the dedication of the recently completed renovation of the UI College of Nursing building in Iowa City. The 35,377-square-foot renovation included the ground floor, the first floor, half of the second floor and parts of the third and fourth floors. The total cost was $11.8 million. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — Four years after pitching a $22.5 million revitalization of its College of Nursing building, the University of Iowa on Thursday celebrated the completion of a scaled-down, $11.8 million renovation offering modernized classrooms and more interactive and collaborative spaces.

The 35,377-square-foot renovation of the nursing building — originally constructed in 1971 on the west side of campus — began in late 2017 after being put on hold for a lack of funding.

The university initially planned to cover the $22.5 million project with gifts and earnings, temporary investment income and building renewal funds. But when the UI central administration declined to provide “any financial support” for the project in 2016, it was “substantially cut back,” according to online College of Nursing updates.

In April 2017, the Board of Regents approved a revised $11.8 million renovation under the premise that funding would come from Nursing College gifts and earnings. With only $3.8 million raised so far, though, the project largely has been funded with UI general education dollars, according to college spokesman Scott Ketelsen, who noted fundraising continues.

The renovation comes amid a nationwide nursing shortage propelled, in part, by limited space in nursing schools and faculty to teach in them.

The upgrades and amenities unveiled Thursday incorporate more online education while catering to current teaching practices. The work adds and enhances classrooms, collaboration spaces and offices.

“We are really experiencing the joy of this building now,” College of Nursing Dean Julie Zerwic said during a ceremony Thursday,

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“Every single classroom in the College of Nursing is now an active learning environment,” she said. “A lot of time was spent to make sure we really got this right.”

Meeting new demands

When the UI first pitched the project for regents’ approval in 2015, administrators pointed out that the college had outgrown its academic space and was not adequate to meet the needs of future students.

“Over one million of the nation’s three million nurses are projected to retire in the next 10 years,” according to the 2015 board documents,

“In all programs, younger students with longer career trajectories are needed,” the documents said, noting “younger students demand more extensive use of technology and state of the art facilities.”

Those students also expect their school to conform to teaching changes, the documents show, including a shift from traditional lectures to teaching innovations like simulations.

Enrollment off goal

With nurses in high demand and the UI Hospitals and Clinics turning to costly traveling nurses to fill employee gaps, the college in 2015 set a goal to increase student enrollment in its primary care programs by at least 30 percent by 2020.

Numbers have been dropping, though, from 1,040 total undergraduates and graduates pursuing nursing in 2015 to 872 in 2018, the most recent data available.

Dean Zerwic said among the issues were space restrictions and limits, and the renovation lets the college focus on growing enrollment.

“This gives us the ability to admit additional students, which is critical,” she said. “We didn’t have the right space. So this gives us a lot more options and opportunities.”

In addition to student growth, according to the board proposal, “There is a growing demand for nursing faculty.”

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Since 2015, the number of tenured and tenure-track faculty in the Nursing College has remained mostly stable, dipping just two from 31 to 29, according to UI figures. But thanks to a boost in non-tenure-track faculty, the college’s overall faculty rose from 164 to 190.

The regents recently approved a tuition supplement of $200 more for UI undergraduate nursing students to “provide additional funding to attract tenured and nontenured faculty.” The college this fall also implemented supplemental tuition increases — on top of a $300 base tuition hike — for doctoral students and master’s students from outside Iowa.

Simulations stay put

In line with needs for more simulation space, the original proposal for the upgrades suggested moving the Nursing Clinic Education Center, housed within the UI Hospitals and Clinics, to the College of Nursing.

But a project update announced “central administration is not able to provide any financial support” for the renovation. The central administration strongly encouraged the college to reconsider relocating the education center.

Spokesman Ketelsen said the “collaborative relationship between the College of Nursing and UIHC was the rationale for not moving” the center. “Consequently, the needed square footage was reduced dramatically and the project cost followed suit,” he said.

Zerwic said she thinks leaving the Nursing Clinic Education Center where it is actually makes the most sense.

“I think having the simulation center over at the hospital is fabulous because it allows this really strong collaboration between the College of Nursing students, faculty and then the nursing team over there,” she told The Gazette.

Even though the thrust of the renovation is complete, administrators Thursday announced plans for $800,000 in upgrades to the building’s outdoor terrace. That project will be entirely funded by a donation, which the university already has secured, officials said.

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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