At least a bachelor’s for all nursing jobs? Not so fast

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) is pushing back on efforts by an association representing nursing colleges to make baccalaureates the entry-level degree for nursing jobs.

A task force formed by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing is circulating for comment a draft recommendation that all nurses attain at least a bachelor’s degree, saying that it’s needed to keep up with the “rapidly expanding clinical knowledge, mounting complexities in health care, and growing primary provider shortages” in the nursing field.

Yet, as AACC and the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) observe in their response to the proposal, there is no evidence that the associate degree isn’t properly preparing nurses to work in the field. And a required baccalaureate would only include general education courses and not additional health care education.

More than 814 community colleges offer associate-degree nursing (ADN) programs that have educated nearly 40 percent of the 2.6 million registered nurses in rural and urban health care settings in the U.S., according to AACC and ACCT.

For more than a decade, nursing colleges have pushed for the baccalaureate, with ADN supporters arguing that doing so amounts to “degree inflation.” While community college leaders encourage nursing students to continue to earn higher credentials in their field, an associate degree often serves as an affordable first step in career mobility and further degrees.

What employers want

In its response to the newest effort, AACC and ACCT noted myriad reasons for the value of retaining the associate nursing degree, citing its importance especially in developing trained nurses in rural areas that may not have four-year nursing programs, and for jobs in doctor’s offices, nursing homes, and urgent and acute-care facilities.

The associations representing community college leaders also cited that the current shortage of nurses is expected to grow — up to 1.2 million — as baby boomers retire.

“In order to meet the need, community college associate-degree programs will play a vital role,” AACC and ACCT said.

Hospitals also don’t appear to be clamoring for hires with a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. According to the American Hospital Association, only 389 of the 5,564 U.S. registered hospitals hold “magnet” status, meaning they may require a bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN) degree.

“Only about 6 percent of U.S. hospitals achieve magnet designation, which leaves 94 percent of hospitals that are not pursuing magnet status,” AACC and ACCT said.

Passing the test

In terms of how well nursing students are prepared for the workforce, the community college associations point to the national licensure exams. Both BSN and ADN earners can take the National Council Licensure Examination, commonly called the NCLEX, which, if they pass, allows them to practice as registered nurses. According to the latest data, 85 percent of ADNs who take the exam pass it.

“If ADNs demonstrate proficiency by passing the NCLEX, which is designated to test proficiency of skills to enter the professional, then we find it difficult to understand the rationale for arguing against the ADN as the entry-level preparation for nursing practice,” AACC and ACCT wrote.

Online comments on the baccalaureate proposal are due December 18.

About the Author

Daily Staff
CCDaily is published by the American Association of Community Colleges.