FARMINGTON — A new agreement between San Juan College and the University of New Mexico will allow the college's students to graduate with a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree without leaving campus.

Starting in January 2015, students from San Juan College will be able to graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from UNM after earning their associate degree from San Juan College.

San Juan College President Toni Pendergrass and Nancy Ridenour, professor and dean of the UNM School of Nursing signed a memorandum of understanding Tuesday night at a reception held in the Educational Services Building.

Nisa Bruce, director of San Juan College's Nursing Program, said it will create more opportunities for students.

"It opens up an opportunity for students that are unable to transfer to Albuquerque or Las Cruces," Bruce said. "It opens an opportunity for them to stay here and get a bachelor's degree."

Ridenour said the nursing schools at UNM and NMSU have been turning away students and this agreement will help increase the number of students graduating.

"We need the help of the community colleges (to) increase the number of ... nurses in the state," Ridenour said.

The agreement was possible due to efforts made by the New Mexico Nursing Education Consortium to standardize curriculum statewide, consortium leadership council member Delores Thompson said.

Thompson said work started in 2009 to establish a statewide nursing curriculum designed to help students transfer from two-year programs to four-year schools.

"Every school has their own curriculum and their own way of doing things," Thompson said.

San Juan College is the fourth college to make a nursing partnership with UNM or NMSU. New Mexico Junior College and Central New Mexico Community College signed agreements with UNM, and Santa Fe Community College signed a partnership with NMSU.

Bruce said the change in curriculum will help maximize safety in all health care settings.

Thompson said partnership agreements and the formation of the statewide curriculum will help elevate the education of nurses in the state.

This is the third agreement made since September 2013 between San Juan College and another state college to help students earn bachelor's degrees.

Agreements with New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology and New Mexico Highlands University will allow students to transfer to the colleges to continue their education.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 and jkellogg@daily-times.com. Follow him @jkelloggdt on Twitter.