CT grants $3 million to QU to help meet demand for nurses, social workers

Katie Langley, News Editor

Employment opportunities across the country for registered nurses will grow by 6% by 2031, due to a large aging population that will require medical care, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. To keep up with a greater need, the state of Connecticut awarded 20 universities including Quinnipiac University the CT Health Horizons Grant.

The grant will allocate a total of $3 million to Quinnipiac’s accelerated bachelor of science in nursing and master of social work programs. It is a 3-year-long initiative to increase employment in nursing and social work, the university announced in a press release March 1.

The CT Health Horizons grant will allocate $10,000 in tuition assistance to qualifying students in the masters in social work and accelerated bachelors of science in nursing programs. (Jack Muscatello)

For social workers, employment growth is even faster than the nursing industry, with the BLS projecting that the industry will see a 9% growth in employment by the same year. According to Social Work Today, the social worker shortage is partially due to an aging population, geographic disparities in mental health care and the impacts of addiction.

The funds will be used for tuition assistance and hiring new faculty in the social work and nursing programs.

As part of the grant, many students who qualify for need-based aid in the ABSN and MSW programs will receive $10,000 per year in tuition assistance scholarships. 20 incoming first-year students in the MSW program will receive tuition assistance as well as 30 second-year MSW students and 20 in their third year, said Janelle Chiasera, dean of the School of Health Sciences.

The ABSN program allows students with any bachelor’s degree to earn a bachelor of science in nursing and prepare to take the Nursing Licensure Exam in one year.

Lisa O’Connor, dean of the School of Nursing, said this aid is essential because the ABSN program is highly demanding and may not allow students to work while getting their degree. In addition, O’Connor said that financial aid opportunities are more limited in the program than in a traditional undergraduate degree.

“We have been challenged by our leaders both across the country and in the state to increase enrollments in Connecticut and our nursing programs to address the nursing workforce shortage,” O’Connor said. “This grant specifically allows us to hopefully increase our accelerated (nursing) enrollment by about 20-25 students per year.”

To bring more nursing and social work students to Quinnipiac, the university is targeting Connecticut Alliance Districts, O’Connor said.

Alliance districts are a selection of over 30 schools the Connecticut Department of Education deems in need of aid. Hamden and New Haven School Districts are both alliance districts, according to the DoE.

In addition to providing financial incentives for future health care workers, O’Connor said that Quinnipiac and Hartford HealthCare created partnerships for job placement because of the grant. These partnerships include the HHC Certified Nurses’ Aide Training Program and Patient Care Technician Program.

“This grant allows us to help (students) with a pipeline into training to become nursing assistants, or patient care associates … so that over their years of undergraduate education, if they want to work part time, they can do so in a Hartford HealthCare setting,” O’Connor said.

Carol Awasu, chair of the social work department and MSW program director and professor, said the grant will help to increase the amount of behavioral health professionals in the social work field.

“I think one of the things that’s really important to realize and to get out to people, is the really incredible need that’s there for social workers, and certainly for nurses,” Awasu said. “Mental health needs were there long before COVID in communities of color and around the state. That was exacerbated by the COVID pandemic.”

Awasu said that one goal of the grant is to recruit students of color to the social work and nursing industries who can go on to represent the populations they care for in underrepresented communities.

Lisa Rebeschi, associate dean of the School of Nursing and professor of nursing, said that two new full-time nursing faculty members will be hired to better meet the needs of increased enrollment brought on by the CT Health Horizons Grant.

In the MSW program, Awasu said Charity Denise Ford, field education coordinator will be moving from a part-time to a full-time role. Ford will help manage the additional field placements, or clinicals, for those that come to the MSW program.

Rebeschi said the nursing and social work faculties are “incredibly grateful” for the CT Health Horizons grant.

“The grant will be a start, not a finish,” Rebeschi said. “It’s a very good beginning for the state of Connecticut, but even with all … of the students that the grant will support, it’s a fraction of what the needs for registered nurses are in the state of Connecticut.”

The CT Health Horizons grant is funded by the American Rescue Plan, a federal program that provided financial support to people and businesses following the COVID-19 pandemic. It will be administered by the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities organization.