Springfield’s AIC gets federal grant to help nursing students pay for their education

(Mass Live) At least 40 disadvantaged nursing students attending American International College will get up to $15,000 a year each to defray the cost of their education under a federal grant announced Wednesday.

American International College received $2.4 million over four years through the U.S.Department of Health and Human Services Scholarships for Disadvantaged Students program. The money should be available for next semester.

Students must qualify both academically, by making good progress in the program, and economically.

U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Springfield, announced the grant along with college President Vincent M. Maniaci.

Neal is an AIC graduate.

The $2.4 million is the largest grant awarded from the federal program to a Massachusetts college and is the largest federal grant ever received by American International College.

Theresa M. Renaud, of West Springfield, is a senior who plans to complete her bachelor’s degree in nursing in May and then get her credentials as a registered nurse. Last year, she received $1,000 from a similar, but less ambitious, federally funded program at AIC.

“It allowed me to cut back my hours at work and focus more at school,” Renaud, 25, said prior to the news conference. “It allowed me to spend more time in the simulation lab here, where we can practice techniques that we need to learn, and not worry so much about money.”

Removing at least some of that financial pressure is the goal, said Karen S. Rousseau, director of the nursing program. Rousseau said she’s had students drop out because they couldn’t keep paying tuition. One student was afraid her family would lose their house. Tuition alone at American International’s nursing program is $30,000 a year, but many students get some sort of aid to bring that cost down.

“We had one student who was homeless. He was living in his car and trying desperately to keep it secret so he could just stay in school and graduate,” Rousseau said. “Then he could get a job and rebuild his life.”

And the jobs are out there, Rousseau said. Even though hospitals have had to lay off nurses recently, the population of working nurses is older and nearing retirement, she said. As those baby boomer nurses retire, employers will need to hire new workers.

J. William Ward, executive director of the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County, said there are estimates that the need for new nurses will be acute just four years from now.

Neal said the federal Affordable Care Act will create 32 million new customers for health care because 32 million more people will have health care coverage.

There are also 1.7 million veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Of those, 54 percent have filed claims for some sort of disability.

“Caring for them is going to be a great honor and a great commitment,” Neal said.

Rousseau said there are 398 students in American International’s bachelor’s degree nursing program. It is one of the largest bachelor’s in nursing programs in Western Massachusetts. The college also has a master’s program.

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