Stephen F. Austin State University

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State adopts SFA's plan to retain at-risk nursing students

February 28, 2012 - Kayli Steger
Collaboration between the DeWitt School of Nursing and the Department of Mathematics and Statistics has led to pioneering research, prompting a statewide initiative to address the nursing shortage in Texas.
Collaboration between two SFA academic areas has led to pioneering research, prompting a statewide initiative to address the nursing shortage in Texas.

Dr. Glenda Walker, director of the Dewitt School of Nursing, and Dr. Greg Miller, statistics professor and director of the Statistical Consulting Center, have worked for nearly a decade to determine the factors that put a student at-risk for not completing nursing school. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board recently adopted their practices for statewide implementation in the At-Risk Tracking and Intervention Project, marking the first local project of its kind to be extended and supported across the state.

The demand for recruiting and retaining qualified nurses is becoming more crucial each year and is estimated to triple by 2020, Walker said. Because Texas nursing programs have a finite number of medical facilities and faculty, it is of utmost importance to retain and graduate each student who enters nursing school.

As part of the $3 million THECB grant, SFA will lead 27 Texas nursing schools in surveying a cohort of students who, based on their results, may be flagged as "at-risk," depending on specified variables. Reading comprehension, anatomy and physiology scores, and working a part-time job are among the most common predictors.

To combat these risk factors, personalized intervention strategies have been established to address stress, anxiety, test-taking skills, critical thinking and lecture participation.

"Identifying an area of weakness is only half of the process," said Walker. "The faculty must then let the student know they are committed to seeing them walk across the stage, and that helps develop the motivation and self-confidence they need for success."

At the conclusion of the two-year grant, the project will have amassed an extensive dataset on the subject that is unrivaled in size and scope, Miller said. Faculty members in both departments hope the results will be a catalyst to continue this statistical research and expand to different academic areas.

"Statistics is a service discipline," Miller said. "This is an example of two seemingly different disciplines merging together to solve big problems."