OCU plans for expansion

Published: Wednesday, July 8, 2009 7:00 am

The Journal Record

OKLAHOMA CITY - Oklahoma City University is planning a $9.4 million building expansion to its nursing school.

Plans are for the school to add 50,000 square feet to the existing 16,000-square-foot facility.

"We have been expanding and growing so rapidly in terms of students and faculty. We had outgrown our current little building about three years ago," said Marvel Williamson, dean of the Kramer School of Nursing at OCU.

The expansion consists of a three-story building with a connecting plaza to the current nursing school. The facility will have the capability to house nine additional classrooms and six large seminar rooms. In addition, there will be two large nursing labs that will have simulation patients for the nursing students to practice with.

Williamson said investing in the facility is one way OCU is helping to curb the nursing shortage.

If current trends continue, Oklahoma is anticipated to have a shortage of about 3,000 nurses by 2012, according to a study by the Oklahoma Health Care Workforce Center and the Oklahoma Hospital Association.

But the nursing shortage is not because of a lack of interest in the field.

Last year, U.S. nursing schools turned away more than 40,000 qualified applicants from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs because of a shortage of faculty and other factors, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

When Williamson joined the OCU nursing faculty in 2001, the school had 72 students. Now the school has more than 300 students.

Williamson said part of that growth is because the school accepts all qualified, eligible students. State schools can only take a certain amount of students, and as a result many qualified applicants end up on a waiting list. But as a private university, OCU has higher tuition than other universities.

Still, Williamson said avoiding the waiting list can provide long-term value for students.

"They are able to get out quicker and start making money, which helps them afford that higher tuition," she said. "I think that is why we are growing as well. People understand the economic principle."

The current facility is designed for about 100 students.

When the school started utilizing other university classrooms, Williamson said it became apparent there was a need for expansion.

To date, the school has raised a total of $6.1 million for the project, with the Inasmuch Foundation awarding the school a $1 million grant toward the building expansion.

Though the $1 million is a step toward construction, Williamson said they will not begin the project until they raise all the money.

"We hope to start very soon," she said. "Raising money right now is difficult, but the new grant is a significant step jump for us."

Sheryl McLain, executive director of the Oklahoma Health Care Workforce Center, said she thinks the OCU facility expansion will help address the health care work force need.

While many schools are looking into expanding capacity, McLain said troubled economic times makes it difficult to obtain the money needed for those projects.

OCU's initiative to expand is encouraging, said McLain.

"The key issue is we need more faculty members to teach," she said. "We need more facilities and classrooms."

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