Grant enables AC nursing to add night classes with a new learning model

Recently, nursing education far and wide has been shifting to a concept-based curriculum (CBC), and thanks to a grant from the Harrington Cancer and Health Foundation, Amarillo College has remained at the forefront of that big change.

AC received a $250,000 Harrington grant late in 2021 to help expand capacity in the Associate Degree Nursing (ADN) program through the addition of a never-before-offered night-classes component that prioritizes the new CBC approach.

After substantial curriculum redesign – in concert with the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing – the College offered its first-ever nighttime ADN classes this semester (spring 2023).

A full cohort of 40 students enrolled, students who for a variety of reasons either prefer night classes or are unable to make a commitment to daytime classes.

The grant empowered AC to work with a curriculum consultant and also helps fund the salaries of faculty teaching at night, while providing night nursing students with $500 scholarships to help cover costs of tuition and supplies.

The curricular changes, which essentially prioritize problem-solving and effective thinking skills over outdated memorization techniques, is additionally designed so that students can complete the ADN program in four semesters rather than five.

Courtney Scheller, who began studying to become a nurse in 2019, an effort that was interrupted by the pandemic, made her return to academia by enrolling in the night class. She says she immediately noticed the difference in content delivery.

“Back when I first started we would be asked to pull small bits of information from all over and try to fit them into a big picture,” Scheller said. “Now it is concept based, so it’s like starting with a big picture and drilling down from there.

“That’s very beneficial,” she said. “Our night class has also been great for those of us who have full-time jobs or who take care of children during the day. The convenience of being able to attend nursing school at night is amazing.”

The CBC model also is better preparing AC nursing graduates for when they sit for the national licensure exam – the NCLEX – which similarly is evolving away from memorization to a case-study format.

Kim Crowley, dean of nursing, says the new CBC teaching model, while still being tweaked somewhat at AC, has proven to be successful enough that beginning next fall it will become foundational in all ADN classes at the College.

“Concept-based learning is designed to make students think out problems and evaluate, not just memorize,” Crowley said. “The way students learn, think and conceptualize is different now than ever before – has been all their lives – and education has to catch up with the way students learn today.

“Accrediting bodies realize this is what we’re facing, and they are excited to watch us make the changes we’re making.

“All our graduates, in order to be licensed, must pass the NCLEX, and since the test is evolving to this new way of assessing a candidate’s knowledge, it stands to reason that in order for our teaching practices to remain relevant, we must evolve as well,” she said.

That evolution began this semester with AC’s first night nursing cohort, which has been meeting from 5:30-9:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. Crowley says the inaugural night class and CBC format have been a challenge for students and faculty alike.

“Our students are working so hard,” Crowley said. “I’m proud of our students and our faculty, too, because there is nothing easy about what they’re doing. Many students come to class straight from wherever they work. They often don’t have time to eat; there’s only a 15-minute break midway.

“I do know that the scholarships afforded by the Harrington grant are a godsend. Some students used the money to buy scrubs to wear for clinicals,” she said. “If the need of our students for financial support is real, so too is their appreciation.”

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration, despite recent gains made on addressing the nationwide nursing shortage, it continues to persist. So, too, does a shortage of available nursing faculty.

Crowley says AC is experiencing a shortage of nursing faculty at present and therefore will not be able to launch a new night cohort until the spring of 2024. However, based on the obvious interest in the first night classes, the College anticipates a future upsurge in the volume of nursing graduates.

“Our goal over the next two to three years is to have as many as 600 nursing majors in the pipeline at once,” Crowley said. “That compares to about 320 to 340 that we’re able to accommodate right now, and night classes should take us there.

“Changing how we teach, adding flexibility to our offerings, and receiving philanthropic support is a combination that very well can help us successfully address the shortage of nurses in the region that we serve.”