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Northwest-Shoals Community College celebrates 50th anniversary of nursing program

For 50 years, Northwest-Shoals Community College (NW-SCC) has been training nurses to serve the people of Alabama and beyond. In November the college invited its nursing graduates, community members and those who have benefited from the caring hands of NW-SCC alumni back to its Phil Campbell campus to celebrate the milestone.

For Ann Bales, a 1976 alum and retired NW-SCC instructor, her involvement in the nursing program ranks among the most meaningful events in her life.

“Nursing has been the most amazing thing in my life, aside from my children,” Bales said in a news release about the event. “You experience things that forever change who you are as a person.”

Sandi Barnes, a retired hospital executive and 1979 alum, also ranked her NW-SCC experience as monumental.

“This outstanding program not only allowed me to graduate with my nursing degree, but opened my mind to the vast opportunities healthcare offers and greatly needs,” said Barnes, who served as vice president of Patient Services and chief nursing officer at Helen Keller Hospital in Sheffield, and chief nursing officer and CEO at North Alabama Shoals Hospital in Muscle Shoals.

A nursing student at Northwest-Shoals Community College prepares an IV. (Contributed)

“I have experienced the amazing opportunities of many facets of the healthcare industry all within our community, from clinical nursing to hospital administration, through the foundation I received from Northwest-Shoals,” Barnes said. “I will forever be grateful that the committed, outstanding faculty and strong curriculum allowed me to understand how to meet the diverse needs of patients.”

The nursing program began in 1972 on the Phil Campbell campus to help alleviate a shortage of registered nurses in Northwest Alabama. The program has grown from an inaugural class of 30 to almost 100 students.

The campus was founded in 1963 as Northwest Alabama State Junior College to provide access to post-secondary education for citizens of the rural counties of northwest Alabama. It was the first public junior college in what was to become the Alabama Community College System. A Shoals campus was founded in 1966 as Joe Wheeler State Trade School to provide occupational and technical training.

The first class, circa 1963, at what became Northwest-Shoals Community College. (Contributed)

In 1989, the state board of education created Northwest Alabama Community College through the consolidation of Northwest Alabama State Junior College and Northwest Alabama State Technical College in Hamilton. Shoals Community College was created through consolidating Muscle Shoals State Technical College and the Tuscumbia Campus of Northwest Alabama State Junior College. Then, in 1993, Northwest-Shoals Community College was formed through the merger of Northwest Alabama Community College’s Phil Campbell Campus and Shoals Community College. The merger was designed to provide more effective and efficient educational services to residents of rural northwest Alabama and the Shoals area.

Today, more than 4,000 students attend NW-SCC. Over 75% of students benefit from financial aid, which aligns with the college’s mission to support a diverse population from a variety of income levels, including students from traditionally underserved communities.

On average, school officials said, students at NW-SCC save between 50% to 60% on tuition costs compared to traditional four-year colleges or universities. Those savings can often be the difference in a student having the means to transfer after two years to another institution and attain a four-year degree.

Brittney Humphres, executive director of nursing at the Phil Campbell Campus, praised the nursing faculty as “the heart of the program.” Close to 100 people joined in the celebration reception, including NW-SCC President Jeff Goodwin and state Rep. Jamie Kiel of Russellville.

Humphres described the nursing faculty as “true student advocates who truly care about our students and them succeeding in their career.”

Learn more about NW-SCC and the nursing program at nwscc.edu.

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