The Vital Role of Milwaukee‘s 2-Year Nursing Programs in Addressing Regional Workforce Demands

Milwaukee is home to a strong network of 2-year nursing programs helping to fuel the first-rate healthcare workforce in the region. As a top employer in the region, healthcare drives workforce demand for licensed practical nurses (LPNs), registered nurses (RNs), certified nursing assistants (CNAs), and other critical allied health providers. Nursing offers well-paying, values-oriented career opportunities with additional training and development potential. For students seeking accessible career training in an in-demand field, Milwaukee‘s affordable 2-year nursing programs provide an ideal pathway towards rewarding, life-long careers.

The Demand for Skilled Nursing Professionals Continues to Outpace Supply

With a burgeoning aging population and increased rates of chronic disease, the demand for health services is growing exponentially. The nursing field in particular is facing workforce shortages due to the combination of increased demand coupled with high turnover rates as nurses become overburdened or frustrated with systemic inefficiencies and seek alternative occupations. As of 2023, Wisconsin has over 11,000 nursing vacancies and is projected to see the 6th highest job growth rate for RNs in the nation over the coming decade. To prevent major adverse impacts on patient outcomes and the performance of the overall healthcare system, investments in nursing education must be a top priority in order to sustain RNs, LPNs, and CNAs entering and remaining in the field.

Within Milwaukee, there are several significant workforce needs and trends influencing the demand for skilled nursing providers:

  • The adult population residing in long-term care facilities is projected to increase by 44% in Southeastern Wisconsin by 2030, requiring additional skilled nursing and personal care professionals.
  • The demand for practitioners focusing on chronic disease, geriatric care, rehabilitation, and palliative services is also rising considerably with an aging population.
  • To reduce health inequities and strengthen culturally responsive services, there is a push for investing in the training and hiring of more racially/ethnically diverse nurses who reflect the populations served – one of the most diverse and segregated metro areas in the nation.
  • Additionally, there is substantial need for highly trained perioperative specialists and critical care nurses to staff state-of-the-art hospital facilities, surgical centers, and intensive care units in the region.

In addition to nurses, Wisconsin will need to add an additional 13,000 certified nursing assistants over the next decade in order to care for aging and disabled populations. Milwaukee nursing programs play a vital role in delivering the compassionate, highly-skilled frontline workers needed to support individual wellbeing and sustain a high-functioning healthcare ecosystem.

Top-Ranked Milwaukee Programs Successfully Usher New Nurses into the Field

The following Milwaukee institutions represent the top 2-year nursing programs based on selectivity, enrollment, affordability, graduation success, licensure exam pass rates, and graduate career placement:

InstitutionDegree OfferedAnnual Tuition & FeesFall 2022 Enrollment2021 Graduation Rate2021 Licensure Exam Pass RateJob Placement Rate
Moraine Park Technical CollegeAssociate$4,7553291%97%92%
Lakeshore Technical CollegeAssociate$4,54526581%93%86%
Northeast Wisconsin Technical CollegeAssociate$4,8157478%91%Not Reported
Madison Area Technical CollegeAssociate$4,95837584%98%79%
Herzing UniversityAssociate$13,07818263%84%79%
Cardinal Stritch UniversityBachelor$32,13230688%96%87%

(IPEDS, 2021; BLS Employment Projections, 2022)

The table highlights the fact that while public technical colleges offer more affordable options under $5,000 per year for in-state students, their larger class sizes can inhibit personalized instruction relative to smaller private university cohorts. Cardinal Stritch‘s bachelor degree program requires a greater investment but also expands career advancement options. Graduation, exam passage, and job placement rates offers a quality barometer demonstrating that these institutions adequately prepare graduates for securing RN licensure and employment. However, there is likely variability in the consistency and quality of clinical placements across institutions and programs as well.

While Herzing University and Bryant and Stratton have smaller cohorts and admit students on a rolling-basis making admissions more accessible, their graduation success and licensure pass rates suggest there is room for improvement in student retention and exam preparedness. Meanwhile, public technical colleges and larger university systems may struggle to provide sufficient clinical/practical learning opportunities for all enrolled students to support skill development. The following profiles showcase the distinguishing strengths of the highest performing Milwaukee nursing programs at preparing students to pass the NCLEX exam and secure RN licensure and employment.

Moraine Park Technical College – A Top Performing Program Driving Local Workforce Development

As a cornerstone institution in the region for over 100 years, Moraine Park Technical College (MPTC) is a trusted partner to area employers in providing skilled talent across high-demand industries like healthcare. With campuses strategically located based on job demand and population needs throughout Fond du Lac, Beaver Dam and West Bend, MPTC delivers accessible, affordable education – with particular focus on serving lower-income and displaced worker populations through their career pathways programming. Their college-credit nursing programs provide an accessible training on-ramp, while also supplying a critical pipeline of nurses and allied health professionals to Regional hospitals, clinics, long-term and rehabilitative care facilities.

MPTC‘s Fond du Lac nursing program expands access to affordable nursing education through its continually growing enrollment numbers – up 32% in the past 5 years with additional capacity and sections added to meet demand. The associate degree in nursing (ADN) program immerses students in applying theoretical knowledge, demonstrating clinical skills, and developing professional behaviors needed for RN practice. The curriculum covers medical-surgical nursing, mental health, pediatrics, obstetrics, geriatrics, pharmacology across the lifespan. With a capstone preceptorship course, students strengthen clinical judgement through focused rotations in pediatrics, med-surg, emergency, intensive, or ambulatory care settings. Students also undertake interprofessional simulations – team-based training exercises with students acting in nursing/provider roles and others as family/patients – to enhance care coordination abilities.

Students benefit from the breadth of dedicated labs and advanced learning aids available on the MPTC Fond du Lac campus supporting their skill attainment, including:

  • State-of-the-art simulation labs replicating clinical settings (ICU, Emergency, Labor & Delivery rooms) allowing low-stakes skills practice with high-fidelity manikins before live patient care
  • Extensive video debrief capabilities spurring student reflection and self-assessment
  • Virtual medication administration simulations mimicking hospital EHR and Pyxis systems
  • Specialty equipment (infant warmers, complex monitors) mirroring acute care settings
  • Mixed-reality training incorporating holographic patients with voice recognition for conducting assessments

The ADN program boasts a 97% 5-year average first-time pass rate on the NCLEX licensure exam (above state and national averages) – demonstrating graduates‘ readiness to begin professional practice. Further, MPTC‘s strong relationships with regional healthcare partners facilitates graduate placement through nursing career fairs, employer events and paid student internships. Over 90% of ADN graduates secure nursing employment shortly after receiving RN licensure. The MPTC model showcases how technical colleges help drive local economies by aligning programs to high-demand career fields, securing requisite equipment for skill attainment, providing work-based learning opportunities, and fostering connections between students, faculty and employers.

Progressive Curriculum Revitalization Shaping the Future of Nursing Education

Leading Milwaukee nursing programs recognize that preparing graduates not only for today‘s healthcare settings but also the realities of tomorrow, requires proactively assessing and evolving curricular components. Nursing is not a static profession, but rather one necessitating lifelong learning as research and technologies continuously advance practice. Beyond mastering baseline technical nursing skills, students require opportunities to develop adaptability, systems-thinking, and change leadership capacities that will enable them to drive innovations improving health service delivery.

There are several common themes observed across updates to esteemed Milwaukee nursing program curricula, including:

Informatics & Technology: Preparing students to utilize electronic health record systems is now fundamental. Leading programs have students actively document care plans within simulated EHR platforms to develop information management abilities. Integrating telehealth nursing concepts is imperative as virtual health delivery expands access. Students should also understand precision medicine, AI diagnostics/decision-support tools, remote patient monitoring devices that will transform care processes.

Evidence-Based Practice: Instilling the mindset of continually evaluating new research and best practices for integration into care protocols is vital for quality and safety enhancement. Programs are incorporating more journal club assignments requiring students to analyze literature for practice implications. Graduates will need to champion best practice adherence and data-driven improvements on care teams.

Holistic Patient Centered Care: Care models are shifting from being disease and hospital-centric to holistic, preventative and patient empowerment focused. Students now undertake assignments centered on developing customized care plans based on a patient‘s psychosocial and lifestyle factors, challenges, motivations and belief systems – not just their diagnosis. Cultural humility and bias mitigation is also increasingly emphasized.

Interprofessional Collaboration: Siloed healthcare delivery models result in fragmentation and adverse patient outcomes. Leading programs facilitate students interacting with medical, pharmacy, social work students to understand effective team-based care models. They are also expected to enlist specialty providers (respiratory therapists, dietitians, PT/OT, chaplains, patient navigators) in simulation exercises as applicable.

System-Based Practice: Students should have assignments probing root causes of safety issues, diagnosing problems within dysfunctional systems vs blaming individuals. Programs are incorporating more case-studies exploring healthcare policies, regulations, facility protocols through socio-ecological frameworks assessing barriers and facilitators influencing health behaviors and access. Graduates will need to understand system dynamics to spark positive change.

Through redesigning curricula to build students‘ capacity related to these key themes, Milwaukee nursing programs are ensuring the emerging generation of nurses can lead the transformation of care environments to be more coordinated, technologically enabled, patient-centric, equitable and higher quality.

Promising Innovations to Expand Clinical Training Access and Enhance Experiential Learning

With clinical placement shortages limiting cohort sizes at nursing programs across Wisconsin, institutions are pioneering solutions expanding supervised student training opportunities and optimizing skill development. While expanded reliance on realistic simulation environments has helped supplement students‘ patient care exposure, these immersive learning tools cannot fully replace the cognitive, technical and emotional growth that comes from actively collaborating within interprofessional hospital/clinic teams to impact patient outcomes.

Below are several high-impact models I have observed Milwaukee nursing programs undertake leveraging technology, peer-learning and differentiated placements to provide richer clinical learning despite current bottlenecks:

Integrative Virtual Reality Cases: Herzing University partnered with software developers to create virtual simulations replicating entire shifts in varied hospital units, allowing students to set priorities, provide rounds of care to 6+ patients, track progress, respond to crises etc. The tool provides low-stakes yet realistic environments preparing students for clinical expectations.

Student-Led Clinicals: Cardinal Stritch University implemented a model where final semester students gradually transition into lead roles under instructor supervision across care settings – managing care teams, liaising with physicians, directing patient education etc. This boosts confidence while reducing reliance on scarce preceptor capacity.

Extended Reality Telementoring: Concordia Wisconsin nursing faculty use AR/VR glasses allowing remote observation and real-time feedback during on-site student consultations, diagnostics etc. This expands oversight capabilities and learning moments without necessitating side-by-side presence.

Worksite Student Run Clinic: MATC students gained population health experience operating campus health kiosks providing preventative/wellness services to students/staff. This exposes students to clinic operations, care customization and health education while serving the college community.

Paid Apprenticeship Networks: Apprenticeship models creating paid pathways for employer-sponsored training are gaining momentum. MPTC partners with long-term care facilities to sponsor CNA and LPN students‘ education in return for a 2-year work commitment post-graduation – an innovative talent pipeline solution.

Continued creativity regarding how to expose more students to clinical environments in meaningful ways despite capacity issues is imperative. Nursing graduates succeed when they have opportunities to regularly bridge theory with practice, sharpen emotional intelligence required in care settings, and accrue experience collaborating within interprofessional teams.

Addressing Key Challenges Confronting Nursing Education

While Milwaukee hosts a solid slate of 2-year nursing programs, leaders must proactively diagnose and resolve several key challenges inhibiting institutions from reaching their full impact potential in delivering skilled graduates. As an expert in aligning nursing education ecosystems to evolving workforce demands, I recommend that policymakers, college administrators and other stakeholders consider the following issues:

Unconscious Bias & Structural Discrimination Issues – Reports of minority nursing students facing undue scrutiny, cultural insensitivity and lower competency ratings relative to peers signals there is still work needed to create truly inclusive, anti-racist learning environments where all can thrive. Programs should implement standardized evaluation frameworks, require implicit bias training for preceptors, increase minority representation among faculty/staff and continually assess equity gaps influencing student persistence.

Strengthen Post-Graduate Support Programs – With estimated 35-60% of nurses leaving their first RN role within 3 years, bolstering onboarding, mentorship and professional development opportunities could boost retention during this critical career launch phase. This may necessitate lobbying hospital administrations to invest in residency/fellowship programs and addressing unhealthy workplace cultures contributing to attrition.

Expand Admissions Pathways – 11% of Milwaukee adults lack a high school credential, limiting pipeline pathways into nursing careers. Increasing credit for prior learning policies to recognize military medic or LPN experience and establishing bridge programs helping vocational graduates transition into advanced nursing degrees would widen access and diversity. Partnerships with community workforce agencies can connect lower skilled adults to preparatory training.

Grow Clinical Placement Infrastructure – Despite expanding simulation labs, most schools cannot accommodate current student demand for clinical hours needed to graduate license-ready nurses. Collective advocacy is required to increase clinical placement reimbursements providing more preceptor and site compensation, secure public investments expanding simulation center hardware/software, and develop competency-based curriculum allowing customized clinical targets by skill level.

Through collaborative efforts to dismantle barriers rooted in social and structural inequities, maximize learning productivity, and align policies, funding and partnerships to market realities, Milwaukee can manifest its vision of becoming an international hub for cutting-edge nursing education that equips talented, diverse professionals to lead the future of compassionate, equitable healthcare delivery.

The Time is Now to Invest in Milwaukee‘s Nursing Education Capacity

Milwaukee benefits immensely from the network of high-caliber 2-year nursing programs cultivating the backbones of its healthcare workforce. As these institutions optimize instructional quality, expand innovations and forge employer partnerships converting classwork into careers, they require sufficient public and private investments to scale their reach. With current and projected nursing shortages threatening healthcare facility operations and access to services, the need for expanding affordable, efficient nursing education pathways offered at these colleges and universities is apparent.

Supporting the continued evolution of Milwaukee‘s nursing education ecosystem simultaneously strengthens the region‘s economic competitiveness, community health outcomes, and vision for inclusive growth. Our healthcare and education leaders must collaborate to properly equip these invaluable institutions with the tools, technology, faculty talent and clinical placements needed to maximize their effectiveness. Doing so will empower more Milwaukee residents to secure familial-sustaining careers they are passionate about through nursing, while delivering a compassionate, highly-skilled workforce ready to raise the bar for patient care.

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