TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Joseph F. Vitale which would establish a loan incentive and redemption program for nursing educators in New Jersey was approved unanimously by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee today.
“New Jersey’s nursing workforce is absolutely essential to providing for quality health care in the State,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex, and Chair of the Senate Health panel. “While we’ve made progress in reducing a nursing staff deficit, we’re currently facing a critical shortfall of nursing teachers which could jeopardize any progress that we’ve made. We need to ensure that New Jersey residents looking to enter into the nursing profession have the quality teachers available to give them the strong academic foundation to succeed.”
The bill, S-626, would establish the Nursing Faculty Incentive Loan and Loan Redemption Program in the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority. The program would provide loans and loan redemption to finance the graduate study of eligible participants enrolled in an approved graduate degree in nursing program, in exchange for five years of full-time or part-time employment as nurse faculty at a school of nursing in the State following the completion of the graduate program. Under the bill, only State residents enrolled in an approved graduate degree in nursing program who maintain a grade point average of 3.0 or higher are eligible for participation in the program.
The bill was amended in Committee to dedicate a fixed percentage of the existing primary care physician and dentist loan redemption program for the nursing faculty loan redemption program.
“We recognize that New Jersey faces a significant budget shortfall for the next fiscal year, in addition to the current national economic crisis which will have an impact on how we spend State funds,” said Senator Vitale, who is also a member of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. “However, that does not mean that we can’t meet the State’s critical needs, if we identify existing programs and funding mechanisms to keep bills like this cost-neutral. The challenge in the next fiscal year will be to continue to be responsive to the State’s most pressing needs while finding alternative funding to address those needs.”
Senator Vitale noted that many qualified nursing educators do not enter into the teaching profession because it can be costly to complete the graduate degree program, and many of them can achieve higher salaries on the hospital floor, rather than in a classroom. He added that this measure would act to encourage more nurses to share their knowledge with students seeking to be a part of health care in the Garden State.
“Many times, nurses who complete graduate programs are already established professionals seeking to enhance their marketability or academic background,” said Senator Vitale. “These are seasoned health care professionals whose experience can be invaluable to a nursing student just starting down his or her own career path. We need to encourage these health care professionals to share the wealth of on-the-job and academic knowledge they’ve acquired to ensure a strong, well-staffed quality health care experience for the New Jersey’s residents.”
The bill now heads to the Budget Committee before going to the full Senate for consideration.