The Arkansas Rural Nursing Education Consortium (ARNEC) received word in November from a Community College Futures Assembly representative that they were selected as one of the ten National Finalists for the Bellwether Award in the area of Workforce Development. Black River Technical College is one of eight schools that make up the consortium.
As a finalist, they were asked to present their program, “Hidden Gold: A Consortium Responds to Workforce Needs in Rural Arkansas,” at the Futures Assembly held January 30 in Orland, FL. Each of the ten finalists was recognized with one winner being announced.
The Bellwether Awards annually recognize outstanding and innovative programs and practices that are successfully leading community colleges into the future, according to the Community College Futures Assembly website. Workforce Development is one of three categories awarded, and nominees under this category are pubic and/or private alliances and partnerships that promote community and economic development.
The program submitted by ARNEC discussed the need to fill an occupational void that threatened the wellbeing of citizens in the communities served by each of the participating rural schools. The consortium began in 2005 with six colleges participating and ten students from each college. In 2010, two additional colleges joined the consortium and enrollment has risen from 60 to 230, making ARNEC the largest registered nursing program in Arkansas.
According to the narrative submitted by ARNEC, there was much opposition at first, especially from traditional nursing program administrators, primarily in baccalaureate programs. However, the need was so dire and there was support from the Arkansas State Board of Nursing, so approval was given.
ARNEC exceeded all expectations. It has consistently maintained a high NCLEX-RN pass rate, ranking second in 2010 of all registered nursing programs in the state, with 95.5% pass rate for first attempts compared to 87.41% nationally, according to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, and 100% pass rate for second attempts.
ARNEC has also maintained one of the highest retention rates of all nursing programs in the state, with an average of 90%. Respondents to employer surveys indicate a high to very high satisfaction rate with graduates.
The ARNEC Program Directors agree that most gratifying is the baccalaureate nursing program administrators who initially objected to approval of the program are now recruiting ARNEC graduates for their RN to BSN programs.
“Although the top award went to another program,” said Housh, “we were in the top 30 out of 200 applicants covering all three categories. It was quite an honor to have been chosen as a top ten finalist in our category for the prestigious Bellwether Award. I am very proud of our program and all we have accomplished.”