The University of New Brunswick is phasing out the nursing program it offers in Bathurst.

Students were told Monday that no more applications would be accepted and the 2017 graduating class will be the program's last one.

Fourth-year student Meghan Waugh was stunned by the news.

"I don't think anyone was expecting that news," she said. "I believe most people thought the meeting was related to the strike and to our new schedule for completing our semester. So that definitely came as a shock to many students."

UNB students returned to class last week following a three-week strike by faculty in January. The time lost resulted in the cancellation of March break and the school year being extended in April.

Waugh says the students were told UNB couldn't afford to keep the nursing campus at Bathurst going and would concentrate on the programs in Moncton and Fredericton.

"They don't have enough resources to finance all of the campuses and that the resources would be better met in Fredericton or Moncton," she said. "They're allocating their resources there.

"There's not as high enrolment up here in Bathurst, therefore the money is going towards other campuses."

Dean of nursing Gail Storr delivered the news to students on Monday and said they reacted with "shock and dismay."

Storr said many factors went into the decision to stop offering the program in Bathurst.

"This isn't something one arrives at lightly," she said.

One of the considerations was the difficulty placing Bathurst students in a clinical setting for experience, as the program was competing for spots with University of Moncton students and community college nursing programs.

Storr said the Bathurst program also had difficulty attracting qualified applicants. Also, applicants who weren't accepted into the more popular nursing programs in Fredericton and Moncton were hesitant to go Bathurst, she said.

A third consideration was Vitalité Health Authority wanted bilingual nurses to work in Chaleur Regional Hospital in Bathurst.

"The language requirements for the Chaleur General are such that our students are having challenges and Vitalité wanted our students to be able to comprehend French for the safety of the patients," said Storr.

Bathurst Mayor Stephen Brunet says the news came "very much" as a surprise to him.

"I just received the news this morning when I called my office," said Brunet, who is in New York in connection with the awarding of an Emmy to a movie about the Bathurst Phantoms basketball team.

"I said that's not good at all. I've got to wait until I get back and find out what the situation really means and why they made this decision and I'm sure council will want to discuss it."

Waugh believes the nursing program is needed in Bathurst.

"A lot of the students that are enrolled in Bathurst are here because of family commitments, so they either travel from Miramichi or surrounding areas, but they have roots, they have families that they're already established up here," she said. "That's why they chose the program.

"The northern part of the province will definitely see some backlash from this decision. They do have nursing students from the University of Moncton, but they are a French program and we are an English program — the only English program up here. So we cover a lot of programs that are English-based."