NLN backs associate degree for entry-level nursing jobs

One of the nation’s largest organizations for nurse educators has reaffirmed that it opposes a push to require entry-level registered nurses (RNs) to hold a bachelor’s or master’s of science in nursing degree.

In a news release, the National League for Nursing (NLN), which has 40,000 individual and 1,200 institutional members, noted that more than half of new nurses start their careers with an associate degree in nursing, through which they “achieve the requisite academic and clinical foundation to pass the licensing exam to start practice.”

NLN said the effort the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) — which represents baccalaureate and graduate nursing education — to require at least a baccalaureate for RNs could add to a significant shortage of qualified nurses across the country.

“The AACN stand on this matter could create a roadblock to job opportunities in nursing, which has battled a decades-long shortage, fueled in part by the limited capacity of many AACN-member institutions to accept qualified applicants into their four-year programs,” NLN said in its release.

Supporting more entry points

In December, a task force formed by AACN circulated 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.

“I want to stress the importance of widening, rather than narrowing, the entry points to nursing at a time when it is more critical than ever to expand the number of people qualified to practice,” said NLN CEO Beverly Malone. She noted several states have done “a great deal of work” to encourage RNs to work toward higher degrees, including the development of associate-to-bachelor’s and associate-to-master’s degrees in nursing.

ADN-prepared nurses have bright future

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) and the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) also have opposed AACN’s draft recommendation, observing in their response to the proposal that there is no evidence that the associate degree isn’t properly preparing nurses to work in the field. AACC and ACCT noted other reasons to retain the associate nursing degree, such as its importance 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.

Preparing a diverse workforce

NLN also observes that the document doesn’t mention the importance of recruiting and retaining minority faculty as a key to increasing diversity in nursing. Community colleges, meanwhile, have been instrumental in doing so, NLN said.

“We cannot ignore the reality that community colleges are front and center in attracting students of color and those who may be marginalized by economic disadvantage,” said NLN President G. Rumay Alexander. “We applaud the role these fine associate degree programs play in increasing diversity in nursing and thereby, increasing cultural sensitivity in health care delivery that positively impacts patient outcomes.”

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

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