- Associated Press - Thursday, June 19, 2014

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Belhaven University has been cleared to start admitting students to a new nursing program.

The College Board voted Thursday to allow the private Jackson university to move ahead this fall with a program that will allow students to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

The board will still have to give final approval to the program as the first class graduates, in June 2016. College Board documents say the school would seek national accreditation at the same time.

Associate Provost Dennis Watts said that the university plans to admit 50 students a year for two years, for an initial enrollment of 100.

Belhaven officials said that despite many other nursing programs in Mississippi, projections still show a future need for new nurses, especially in the Jackson area. They cite research by the U.S. Labor Department that shows nursing employment is expected to grow 25 percent from 2010 to 2020.

They also noted that while medical leaders have set goals for 80 percent of nurses to have a bachelor’s degree, only about 30 percent of Mississippi nurses currently have a four-year degree. Most nurses earn a two-year associate’s degree. Watts said Belhaven plans to offer a program for registered nurses to complete a bachelor’s degree within the next year or two.

Watts said Belhaven’s close proximity to major hospitals in Jackson makes nursing a natural fit for the university.

“We’re just trying to meet the need for nurses,” he said.

Presbyterian-affiliated Belhaven enrolls more than 3,800 students, including 1,200 undergraduates on the Jackson campus.