The University of Houston-Victoria School of Nursing's days appear numbered.

For the school to survive at UHV, leaders will need to find a way to rebuild the school after 80 percent of its program has been absorbed into the University of Houston's main campus.

In December, the University of Houston System announced plans to develop a branch campus in Sugar Land, where the Victoria campus generates more than half of its revenue through its schools of nursing, business and education.

Of the school's 15 faculty members, 12 had offices in Sugar Land during the 2013-14 school year. One had an office in The Woodlands. The remaining two were in Victoria.

Robert Halepeska, vice president of the Victoria-based M.G. and Lillie A. Johnson Foundation, offered a bleak assessment of the school's future in the city.

Since the school was founded in 2007, the foundation has given the UHV School of Nursing almost $1.7 million - 44 percent of total donations to the school.

"It's gone," Halepeska said. "We have to move on."

However, Bill Blanchard, CEO of the DeTar Healthcare System based in Victoria, said he recommends the UHV faculty find new leadership to sustain a nursing school based in Victoria to meet industry needs. Victoria College offers two-year nursing degrees. UHV has provided four-year degrees.

"We need people with advanced degrees to train nurses at Victoria College," Blanchard said. "We already have the continuum of nursing education here in Victoria. Let's leave it here."

Why the change?

The shift of the nursing school to UH is part of recommendations made by a Sugar Land Task Force to the UH System Board of Regents earlier this year.

Included in the recommendations, approved by the regents in February, was a promise made by the UH System to UHV to adequately fund its continued expansion and transformation into a destination university in Victoria.

"The abrupt seizure last spring of the UHV School of Nursing by the UH main campus was both unfair and underhanded," said former UHV President Phil Castille, who was ousted in part for opposing the change. "It amounted to cherry-picking an outstanding academic unit that UHV had borne all the risks, costs and effort to start up from scratch and develop into a strong program ranked by U.S. News and World Report in the best 300 nursing programs nationwide."

In 2013, UHV Second Degree Bachelor of Science in Nursing students had the highest first-time nurse licensing exam pass rate for universities in the state at 97.3 percent.

When will it happen?

According to a June 4 UH System news release, Sept. 1 was the transition deadline for the transfer of the UHV School of Nursing located in Sugar Land to the UH main campus.

However, the system announced Friday afternoon that it had decided to delay the transfer of the school by one year - until fall 2015.

The delay was recommended by the Sugar Land transition team because of a delay in securing approval from the national accrediting authority, according to Richard Bonnin, UH director of media relations. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools has accredited UHV's nursing school. The move of the school from one university to another - UH, in this case - would need to be approved, or the school would no longer be accredited.

As part of the Sugar Land Transition Team, the UH Work Group is tasked with handling the transfer of the UHV School of Nursing to UH's main campus.

The work groups are scheduled to provide a report in October.

Halepeska, who serves as a member of the UHV Work Group, said all funds and equipment, including the school's Patient Care Simulation Center, originally allocated to the UHV School of Nursing would be staying in Victoria.

"That's going to stay here," Halepeska said. "If someone is going to use it, it's going to be used in Victoria in some capacity - whether that's at UHV, Victoria College or one of the hospitals for training."

Why it matters

Four-year training is considered critical because 80 percent of nurses should hold a bachelor's degree by 2020, according to a 2010 report by the Institute of Medicine.

Victoria's two major hospital systems - DeTar and Citizens Medical Center - do not require their nurses to have a bachelor's degree upon application.

About a third of Citizens' registered nurses have a bachelor's degree, said Shannon Spree, the hospital's marketing director.

Blanche de Leon, a nurse at Citizens with a master's degree from the UHV School of Nursing, said she believes nurses with advanced degrees are more innovative and are able to think critically under pressure.

"A liberal arts education can help make nurses better problem-solvers," de Leon said.

In 2013, UH's main campus enrollment declined by 2.96 percent from the year before - the largest drop in enrollment among the seven major public universities in Texas: Sam Houston State University, Texas A&M University, Texas State University, Texas Tech University, the University of Texas at Austin and the University of North Texas.

During the same time period, UHV's enrollment grew by 3.6 percent, according to data collected from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board website.

"The UH main campus got itself a top nursing program on the cheap at UHV's and Victoria's expense and, so far, without any compensation," Castille said. "This is no way to run a system of higher education, and it was a matter of principle for me to oppose this bad deal."

How students will be affected

For students enrolled in the nursing school during the transition, the transition committee is developing a policy that would maintain tuition and fees at the UHV level until those students complete the program, UH System spokesman Bonnin wrote in an email.

UHV programs will be offered at the Sugar Land and Victoria campuses this fall. The faculty and staff who are part of the nursing program will be offered an opportunity to move if needed, Bonnin wrote.

"While future plans call for program expansion to include doctoral nurse practitioner programs, current programs will be taught in the same place," Bonnin wrote. "There likely will be immediate changes that affect staff as the infrastructure is transferred from UHV to UH."

Earl Smith, UH interim chief health officer, is chairman of the UH Work Group charged with determining the school's future.

"Our biggest concern is to ensure that faculty, staff and students come out of this situation in a positive fashion," Smith wrote in an email. "That means, among many other things, that students don't miss out on financial aid, and faculty and staff don't miss a paycheck."

UHV moving forward

Within the past two years, UHV has added several new degree programs, including a bachelor's of science degree in health studies, a master's of science in biomedical sciences, a master's of science in computer science and a master's of fine arts degree in creative writing.

The health studies program originally began as part of the UHV School of Nursing but was transferred to the UHV School of Education and Human Development in June.

"UHV already has more than 50 students enrolled in this new degree area and expect it to be a high-enrollment, high-demand field of study with immediate employment opportunities throughout the region," UHV Interim President R. Vic Morgan wrote in an email. "Also, nursing courses will continue to be available in Victoria at UHV next school year."

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