Nursing education will continue at Hope College even after the long-running joint program with Calvin College ends.

Offered jointly since 1982, Hope's nursing program will begin operating independently in 2003. The result, according to Hope College President James E. Bultman, will be nursing education that benefits more fully from the college's strengths overall.

"Establishing our own program gives us the freedom to put Hope's signature on nursing education," Bultman said.  "Hope combines excellent liberal arts education, strong training in the sciences and an ecumenical Christian focus that helps prepare students for service to others. At the same time, our program is being developed with a community-based approach to student placements and other activities that emphasizes serving the surrounding area in tandem with our students' education."

The transition from the joint program to the independent one is designed to be as seamless as possible, according to Debra Sietsema, who is the coordinator of Hope's program and an assistant professor of nursing. The last Hope-Calvin class will graduate in 2003, and the first Hope-only class will graduate in 2004.

The B.S.N. program will continue with the same number of faculty on-campus: seven-and-a-half full-time positions. The goal will be to enroll about 32 students each year.

In addition to having a Hope focus, the program will also differ in allowing students to start taking nursing courses earlier in their careers--as sophomores instead of as juniors. According to Sietsema, the change will not only give the students an earlier start in learning their chosen profession, but will also better blend their work in nursing into their ongoing Hope experience. The college's program, according to Sietsema, will help meet a national need. "There is a decrease in supply and an increase in demand for nurses," she said.

She noted that an estimate published by the "Journal of the American Medical Association" indicates that if trends continue, within 10 years there will be a 20 percent shortfall in the registered nurse supply.

"Hope College can continue to meet the educational needs of baccalaureate nurses to further meet the needs of Holland, western Michigan and society at large," Sietsema said.

Hope and Calvin began the nursing program together as an economical way for each school to offer nursing, since neither deemed it feasible to start a program alone, according to Dr. James Gentile, who is dean for the natural sciences and the Kenneth G. Herrick Professor of Biology at Hope.

The alliance has worked, he noted, but not always easily. For example, the 35-mile distance between the two schools creates challenges for course scheduling and faculty-student interaction. Distance learning technology has eased the burden, he said, but hasn't eliminated it.  Hope and Calvin also follow different academic schedules, with their breaks and semester ends and beginnings falling at different times.

In addition, he said, as the program has matured each school has seen ways to build on its own strengths yet has been limited by the joint nature of the operation. When Calvin decided last year to dissolve the program and try a different tact, Hope, he said, embraced the opportunity to do the same.

"I think it's important for a college like Hope College to have a program that is a service-based in the context of the Christian mission of the college," Gentile said. "And I can think of no program more suited to service to humanity than the health careers."

He is particularly enthused that Hope can now add to nursing the same research-based approach to learning that has long been the hallmark of the college's other science programs.

"Hope College has one of the strongest programs in science education in the nation among liberal arts colleges," he said. "Bringing the program more fully into the academic life of the college gives us a unique opportunity to deliver a nursing program that will be able to tap the strengths that our sciences have to offer."

Toward that end, the nursing program--now headquartered in a house on 14th Street--will move into to the new science building the college has planned. According to Gentile, the new quarters, in addition to being state-of-the-art technologically, will provide better opportunities for interaction with other departments, in keeping with the new building's cross-disciplinary focus.

"It'll be one of the premier nursing teaching facilities in western Michigan," he said.