Brenau University will begin accepting doctorate students in August for the first time in its 132-year history.
College leaders recently received word that the board of trustees of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools approved the university's application to become a doctoral degree-granting institution.
The decision allows officials to launch a Doctor of Nursing Practice program next August and at least two other doctorates as early as 2012.
Gale Starich, dean of both the Sidney O. Smith Jr. Graduate School and the College of Health & Science, said final approval of the program took three years of study by staff members.
"To get the application together and to see SACS clearly believes we're ready to offer the degree is really meaningful for us," Starich said.
The university will begin the doctoral program by admitting 12 to 15 students for the fall term and build up to 25 new admissions by fall 2015.
The degree will consist of seven semesters and focus on the practical and advanced applications of the nursing disciplines.
Starich said the program will shape students to become leaders in health care practice and policymaking.
"(Doctor of Nursing Practice graduates) in particular are at the table when we start to talk about hospital management systems. They also look at how to get better outcomes for chronic diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure," Starich said.
Prior to this week's action, Brenau was classified as a Level IV institution, which meant it could offer only masters and education specialist degrees.
The Level V classification allows the university to offer three doctorates. More than that requires an application to the highest classification, Level VI.
Two other doctorates are currently in the pipeline for Brenau, Starich said. The school plans to offer a Ph.D. in adult education in 2012 and a Doctor of Occupational Therapy by 2013.
Starich said the doctoral program rose from the university's strategic plan for growth. The college currently enrolls about 2,800 students and the aim is to increase enrollment to about 5,000 students by 2025. The plan also calls for college leaders to expand the graduate programs.
"We'll also be focused on graduate programs that have meaning in the economy. And that's not to downgrade institutions that graduate English or history Ph.d.s We need the best minds to deal with the big, thorny issues in our country right now," Starich said.
The university will begin accepting applications for the Doctor of Nursing Practice program in January and admit candidates in August for its first doctorate. The university will post applications and detailed information for prospective applicants on Jan. 15.
Brenau submitted its request to SACS at the beginning of the 2010-2011 academic year in August.