Using Community Colleges to Fight the Nursing Shortage

A shortage of well-qualified nurses and other frontline staff remains one of the major headaches for nursing home operators and investors around the country.

Earlier this month, one state came up with a solution that’s getting bipartisan support: allowing community colleges to offer bachelor’s of science in nursing degrees (BSN).

“There’s such a severe shortage of BSN nurses,” Colorado Community College System president Nancy McCallin told Skilled Nursing News.

Should lawmakers pass a bill that’s currently before the state legislature, McCallin hopes to begin offering bachelor’s-granting nursing programs at 13 community college campuses across the state within two years. Last week, the Colorado House of Representatives voted the bill out of committee by a vote of 12-1.

Each year, Colorado health care providers find themselves short a total of 490 to 745 nurses with bachelor’s degrees, McCallin said, and opportunities to obtain the degrees can be elusive and expensive. About 56% of Colorado nurses elect not to pursue the additional education after receiving their initial registered nursing degrees, while 20% venture out of state to continue their education — at a much higher cost than a hypothetical in-state program.

“The industry is finding itself having to go out of state, having to temporarily bring workers in, and that’s not a sustainable solution,” McCallin said.

The Colorado Community College System already offers 13 nursing programs at campuses across the state, and has received legislative approval to grant bachelor’s degrees in a variety of other fields, including dental hygiene, emergency management services, and emergency management services administration.

While holding a bachelor’s degree is not a requirement to become a licensed practical nurse or registered nurse, the extra certification allows BSNs to pursue a wider variety of opportunities. And with nurses around the country preparing to care for a rapidly aging population, it could soon become mandatory for those who want to pursue a career in nursing.

Late last year, New York State passed a so-called “BSN in 10” law, which mandates that all registered nurses obtain a bachelor’s degree in nursing within 10 years of their original licensure. Though current working nurses will all be grandfathered in under the old rules, the bill was aimed at developing the health care regulations of the future.

“Shorter lengths of stays, higher patient acuity, and more sophisticated technologies and procedures are increasing the complexity of patient care — which in turn places great demands on nursing competencies,” the New York State bill reads.

Empire State lawmakers said they modeled their nursing licensure plan after the educational system, where teachers are required to obtain a master’s degree within a certain period of time.

“Several recent research studies clearly demonstrate the added value of additional education in relation to improved patient outcomes,” the bill continues. “The legislature finds that expanding the educational requirements for the profession of nursing, while maintaining the multiple entry points into the profession, is needed.”

The idea is not without precedent: The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies recommended that 80% of American nurses hold a BSN by 2020 in a 2010 report; in 2008, that number sat at 36.8%. The American Nursing Association also recommended that all nurses should have a bachelor’s degree at minimum back in 1965,

Though Colorado does not have such a requirement, McCallin believes offering bachelor’s-level classes at local community colleges will be a boon to the industry on the whole.

“We believe we could offer a really good solution to not completely eliminating the nursing shortage, but making a dent in it,” she said.

Written by Alex Spanko

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Alex Spanko
Assistant Editor at Aging Media Network
Alex covers the skilled nursing and reverse mortgage industries for Aging Media. Outside of work, he reads nonfiction, yells at Mets games from his couch, and enjoys pretty much any type of whiskey or scotch — often all at once.