Nursing students at Concordia University in St. Paul who want to enter the workforce more quickly can now do so through a new accelerated degree program that combines online and in-person instruction.

The private university's hybrid bachelor of science in nursing degree program enrolled its first two cohorts of students this summer and fall. Students must already have taken at least 60 college credits before entering the program, which operates year-round to help prospective nurses complete the remainder of their degrees in 16 months instead of two years.

"There's a huge need. There's always job openings that are out there," said Kendra Saal, Concordia University St. Paul's nursing chair and an assistant professor. "The purpose of the accelerated program was to get students … in and get out."

The demand for registered nurses nationwide is expected to increase by about 10% over the next decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In Minnesota, registered nurse positions are projected to grow at an even greater rate.

Concordia's program is another example of how colleges and universities are embracing online and hybrid learning after being forced to adopt the modes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year, the University of Minnesota announced a hybrid health sciences bachelor's degree program at its Rochester campus that will also run year-round to allow students to graduate in just over two years instead of four.

Students in the Concordia program will listen to most lectures and discussions online and do interactive labs in person. They will also do their clinical rotations in Twin Cities hospitals.

"They're still getting that hands-on learning as they would in the traditional program," Saal said.

Concordia student Rachel Hartnett, 26, said she appreciates the flexibility of the new program. Online classes are easier to balance for students who have children or other responsibilities outside school, she added.

Hartnett and fellow student Lauren Mckay, 20, practiced administering insulin on mannequins during a lab Wednesday at the St. Paul campus.

Mckay said she enrolled in the new program because of its speedy timeline. She has worked as a nursing assistant for almost four years and is ready to take on greater responsibilities.

"During the pandemic, it definitely motivated me to become a nurse," Mckay said.

Because students take the same number of credits, the tuition cost for the program is on par with traditional ones.

The program will admit new cohorts of students every January, May and August. About 30 students have enrolled in the program since it started this past summer, Saal said.

"To be a nurse is a calling," she said. "They just want to go out there and start making a difference."

Ryan Faircloth • 612-673-4234

Twitter: @ryanfaircloth