SCRANTON -- What if you were working hard on getting your degree and someone told you out of the blue that the bulk of your tuition bill was taken care of?
That happened to students in the graduate nursing program at the University of Scranton.
And it wasn't Santa Claus behind it; it was the federal government.
As a nurse practitioner, you get to practice with a little more autonomy, see patients independently.
Kelly Babinski, 48, of Scranton spent more than 20 years as a registered nurse, but she really wanted to be an NP, a nurse practitioner.
Timing, she says, was never right to go back to school. She has three kids, two of whom are also in college.
"Cost was always an issue and I just shared that I have a daughter here how can we afford this?" Babinski said.
But Kelly decided to go for it. She's part of the graduate nursing program at the University of Scranton and this semester, her class got some very good news.
Director Dr. Mary Jane Hanson explains the graduate nursing department was awarded $348,000 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It's grant money for which she applied for in January, specifically meant for tuition bills of students in family nurse practitioner programs in rural areas.
"In Pennsylvania, 27 percent of citizens live in rural areas. That's significantly greater than the number throughout the country, which is 20 percent," said Dr. Hanson. "There is a significant need in this area for more primary care providers, and our program is a primary care practitioner program."
Grant money was given to each student based on the number of credits they're taking.
Dr. Hanson says the majority of the students have had 90 percent of their tuition paid by the grant funds.
In Kelly's case, it was more like 80 percent, but she calls it a phenomenal surprise.
"It just kind of reinforced my decision to go back, despite my not knowing that when I enrolled. It reinforces that this was the perfect time. This was meant to be."
Kelly Babinski will graduate in May on the same weekend as her daughter.
As for the grant money, it doesn't require that students stay in the area to practice for a certain amount of time, but feds did want to know that statistic for the grant.
Dr. Hanson was able to report that 87 percent of students over the past 20 years of the nurse practitioner program at the University of Scranton have stayed in northeastern Pennsylvania or the southern tier of New York.