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Kelly Cleaton, student success advocate

Accessible, affordable nursing degree

College of Nursing and community colleges debut new program

By Crystal Baity
ECU News Services

GREENVILLE, N.C.   (Jan. 25, 2012)   —   High school seniors searching for an affordable nursing degree are being recruited for a new program this fall at East Carolina University and four area community colleges. 

Beaufort County, Lenoir, Pitt, and Roanoke-Chowan community colleges are part of the Eastern North Carolina Regionally Increasing Baccalaureate Nurses (ENC RIBN) program. Students accepted into the program will be dually enrolled at one of the community colleges and ECU. The intent is to increase the number of nurses with bachelor degrees in North Carolina to care for the complex health care needs of patients and to expand the pool for future faculty and advanced practice nurses.

“We are looking for the best and brightest who want to get their BSN degree and who need an affordable way to do it,” said Kelly Cleaton, ENC RIBN student success advocate and lead recruiter. “It will be a rigorous program, but it will be more affordable and accessible to students who may not be able to leave home.”

Students should apply at the community college of their choice by March 1 to begin the process. The second step is to contact Cleaton and fill out a RIBN application. Once accepted, students will fill out an application for ECU.

The competitive program will take only 20 students in its first class with the goal of enrolling five students from each community college. Students will take most of their coursework at the community college before finishing their senior year at ECU.

“If we can keep students in their home community, it often helps them go back and work in their communities,” Cleaton said.

While costs vary from school to school, RIBN students can save an estimated $7,000- $10,000 in tuition alone, officials said.

Students also will have access to support services and counseling. “They are going to have someone with them all the way through to support them, and they’ll have a group of people going through the exact same thing,” Cleaton said.

Partners in the community

Dr. Alexis Welch, dean of health sciences and nursing at Lenoir Community College, was an early champion of RIBN. “A lot of our rural students don’t have the opportunity to start at a university, but they can finish there,” she said.

Welch has met with high school counselors in Lenoir, Jones and Greene counties to tell them about the project. Students must score a minimum of 500 on the critical reading portion of the SAT and meet other requirements just to be considered. Students who are successful will likely be highly motivated, self-focused and have family support, she said.

“It’s a real honor to have ECU be the college of choice for our community colleges to feed into,” Welch said. “It’s a very close partnership and we’re working together to make sure it’s seamless for the student. It’s a win-win for the students, university and community colleges.”

The need for universities and colleges to produce more baccalaureate prepared nurses by 2020 was identified by the North Carolina Institute of Medicine.

“The partnership between ECU and the community colleges addresses the North Carolina Institute of Medicine goal with a strong approach to work together to enhance the nursing workforce,” said Dr. Sylvia Brown, dean of the College of Nursing. “ECU is proud of the collaboration and shared vision for the RIBN project.”

According to the Institute of Medicine, 66 percent of newly licensed nurses enter the workforce with associate degrees in nursing and fewer than 15 percent of those achieve a bachelor’s or higher degree in nursing during their careers.

“Given the important role community colleges have in educating the majority of the N.C. nursing workforce, it is imperative that we identify new ways for qualified nursing students entering a community college to seamlessly progress to the completion of a baccalaureate degree at the beginning of their careers if we hope to increase the proportion of BSN-prepared nurses and build the necessary faculty pipeline to avert a severe workforce crisis,” according to a news release by the Foundation for Nursing Excellence.

The foundation received a $1.37 million grant from The Duke Endowment in 2011 to expand the RIBN project in five regional partnerships across the state, including 14 associate degree and five university nursing education programs. 

“A lot of talented nurses will have the opportunity for advancement and fulfillment by going on to get their bachelor’s degree. Not everybody has to have a bachelor’s degree, but it will open doors, particularly for younger nurses later on,” said Laura Bliley, director of nursing for Beaufort County Community College, which serves Beaufort, Hyde, Tyrrell, Washington and Martin counties. “My hope for the community is that there will be a larger pool of bachelor’s degree nurses in our service area.”

Elizabeth De Jesus Toderick, director of nursing for Pitt Community College, said the project builds on the long-standing, positive relationship between PCC and ECU.

“I think lifelong learning is so important for our region and profession,” Toderick said. “We’re facing major health care issues and we must understand evidence-based nursing to achieve the best outcomes.”

The community college will continue to offer and support the associate’s in nursing degree for entry level nurses. And RIBN is great way to get started on an advanced degree. “If I had a child wanting to go into nursing, I’d push it 100 percent,” Toderick said.

Building on a successful model 

Holly House, 20, lives in Mills River just outside Asheville and attends Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College which partnered with Western Carolina University to offer North Carolina’s first RIBN program in fall 2010.

House lives at home with her parents. She said being able to get a bachelor’s of nursing degree without having to go through multiple application processes and saving money are huge benefits. “Not only are you saving a great amount on tuition, you are also cutting out the cost of room and board, especially if you can still live at home,” House said.

House has wanted to be a nurse since middle school. She took all the allied health classes offered at West Henderson High School and became a certified nursing assistant before graduation. She intends to pursue a master’s degree.

Another student, Kayla Edwards, is married with a 3-year-old daughter. She lives in Mill Spring and works part-time as a certified nursing assistant in home health while attending school.

She graduated from Polk County High School in 2007 and hopes to practice pediatric nursing in the area. “I had tossed around the idea of nursing, but once I had my daughter in 2008, my hospital experience showed me that I definitely wanted to go into nursing,” she said. “I love how there are so many different options within the nursing field itself. I am saving thousands of dollars by going this route. If I hadn’t found out about this program, I honestly would have probably just went and got my ADN and stopped there. I could not have afforded to pay tuition to get my BSN. This program is really awesome and I feel very lucky to be a part of it.”

For more information on the eastern North Carolina program, contact Kelly Cleaton at 252-744-6498 or Cleaton is featured in a PCC video promoting the program at  
For more information on background and funding of the RIBN project, visit the Foundation for Nursing Excellence website at


Contact: Crystal Baity | 252-744-3764