The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point is set to begin offering central Wisconsin's first baccalaureate nursing program, filling an important need in the local health care community.

UWSP and UW-Oshkosh have agreed to offer Oshkosh's Bachelor of Science in nursing courses in Stevens Point, starting in January. A mix of Oshkosh and Stevens Point faculty members will teach the courses.

At the same time, UWSP will develop its own nursing degree completion program using UW-Oshkosh's experience, so that in a few years, it can offer its own degree.

With such a large medical presence in central Wisconsin -- the Marshfield Clinic, Ministry Health Care and Aspirus -- a higher level of nurse training in the region will benefit the medical community.

By 2014, Wisconsin will need about 26,000 more registered nurses because of an aging population and subsequent job demand, according to a 2007 report by the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

"If we can increase the number of bachelor-level nurses, it will lead to better nursing," said Susan Raab, head of UWSP's school of health care professionals, which will house the program. "We have found that the higher the education of nurses, the better the patient care becomes."

The nursing program will be a degree-completion program only, so students who wish to enroll must already have an associate degree or diploma in nursing. The same will be true for UWSP's program when it is fully operational.

With two-year programs at both Northcentral Technical College and Mid-State Technical College, the finishing program made the most sense to UWSP administrators.

"We've got such excellent two-year programs developing nurses now that it only makes sense to take advantage of that," UWSP Provost Mark Nook said.

The university has been hearing from medical facilities for some time that a baccalaureate nursing program would be welcomed. Facilities could hire from their backyard instead of trying to recruit nurses to the region.

A section of the 2009-11 Wisconsin budget also stated that UWSP would develop a nursing program, so the university amplified its efforts.

"There's been a real desire by the local health care community to offer a four-year bachelor's degree," Nook said.