School of Nursing

The School of Nursing was established in 1939 and is one of six health sciences schools at the University. The School of Nursing offers a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), and a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD).

The school is committed to the tripartite mission of the University through excellence in teaching, research, and service. While the mission of the school remains fairly static, the strategic planning used to meet the goals of the school is dynamic.

Planning, Assessment, and Links to Institutional Goals

The School of Nursing Planning and Budget Committee develops the strategic plan that informs the assessment process. This committee meets monthly, and the majority of its members are elected. The School of Nursing uses assessment to evaluate its plan and progress toward its goals. Its planning template clearly identifies the school’s overarching goals, which are consistent with the University’s goals.

For each overarching goal, specific, focused goals are identified, along with strategies and metrics. Because the current plan is in year five of a five-year plan, the metrics include the baseline assessment along with results from years one through four.

The School of Nursing strategic plan and annual report reflect how the assessment process is linked to the University’s goals. For example, one University goal is to increase funded research activity. A related School of Nursing goal is to have 75 percent of the faculty actively involved in research. To achieve this goal, the school uses several strategies. The research infrastructure provides support through pilot funding, workload relief, and statistical support to accomplish this goal. The school emphasizes cutting-edge and high-impact research activities, with a focus on building five major areas within and beyond the School of Nursing: behavioral management of chronic disorders, patient management during hospitalization, informatics to improve health outcomes, genetics, and technology applications. In addition, the school is broadening the funding base for research in light of reduced funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The school continues to have as a goal the maintenance of NIH funding ranking in the top five and advancement toward the top three. The five-year plan shows how assessment has helped the School of Nursing to make progress toward the goal of research involvement.

Using Assessment in Planning, Program Development, and Resource Allocation

The School of Nursing uses assessment processes to support planning and goal setting, improve programs, adjust program offerings, and direct resources. For example, in support of the University’s efforts to raise the standards of education and research, the School of Nursing has articulated several goals. One is to increase the proportion of full-time faculty members who hold a doctoral degree (PhD or DNP) to 100 percent. Over the past several years, the School of Nursing has identified specific strategies to achieve this goal and has evaluated its progress and identified new strategies in response. For the most recent year, this has resulted in the decision to hire only candidates with a PhD or DNP for open full-time positions. In addition, resources have been reallocated to give current faculty members workload relief so that they can pursue a doctoral degree.

The culture of assessment in the School of Nursing also has increased the focus on admitting highly qualified students and ensuring that they graduate. The school has been successful in attracting and graduating some of the best students in the University, which is reflected in average SAT scores and retention rates. Currently at 93 percent, the freshman-to-sophomore retention rate in the School of Nursing is already close to the University goal of 94 percent.

Benchmarking Data in the Assessment Process

The School of Nursing uses several sources of benchmarking data, including data provided by NIH and the National Research Council. In addition, the School of Nursing benchmarks itself against aspirational peer schools and peer schools selected based on NIH rankings as well as university rankings. These benchmarking data have informed many decisions, including establishing faculty workloads and determining realistic research goals. The Provost’s response to the strategic plan progress report provides an official institutional assessment of school-specific goals along with an assessment of the School of Nursing’s success in benchmarking against University goals.

Market data also are used for benchmarking purposes. In response to the market, the school is expanding its PhD and postdoctoral training capacity to emphasize preparation for academic/research careers. The school also is opening and expanding the professional doctorate (DNP) for advanced practice nurses, including nurse practitioners, clinical specialists, administrators, and nurse anesthetists. Another goal is to market and expand the generalist MSN program (clinical nurse leader), focusing on recent graduates and RN/BSN completion students both in and outside the Pittsburgh area.

Improving and Refining a Sustainable Assessment Process

The School of Nursing has clearly developed an organized and systematic process of assessment. The five-year plan identifies overarching goals consistent with University goals as well as specific, actionable goals for the school. For each goal, strategies are identified and adjusted over the five-year period in response to measured progress.

Over time, the assessment process has been adapted and refined to improve its effectiveness. This is perhaps most clearly seen in the articulation of goals. In the past, goals were stated in broad terms that were not useful in assessing progress. For example, one goal in the five-year plan was stated as follows: Sustain an active and involved development effort, focusing on increasing the numbers and sizes of scholarships, supporting research initiatives, supporting community service, supporting education initiatives, and attracting funding for endowed chairs and professorships.

Recognizing that such a broad goal was not useful for monitoring progress and driving decisions, the school revised that particular goal: Sustain an active and involved development effort, focusing on raising $1.8 million annually toward the School of Nursing’s capital campaign goal, increasing participation by 5 percent and money raised by 5 percent as part of the school’s internal campaign, increasing the numbers and sizes of scholarships (five new scholarships per year focusing on doctoral and international education), supporting research initiatives (annually supporting five faculty members seeking funding from corporations and foundations for their research projects), and supporting education initiatives funding for the Nancy Glunt Hoffman Memorial Fund and additional endowed chairs and professorships.

According to the Working Group on Using Assessment to Improve Institutional Effectiveness (WGIE), the School of Nursing has taken a thoughtful and comprehensive approach to assessment, and WGIE cannot identify any short- or long-term goals of the school for which an assessment process is not being used to evaluate progress. The school has completed its current five-year plan and is in the process of generating its next five-year strategic plan.