Keeping America healthy: Ohio joins states offering BSNs at community colleges

With the baby boom population continuing to age, the generation’s quality of life expectations remaining high and healthcare increasingly accessible, the demand for healthcare services is at record levels with no signs of decreasing. As a labor-intensive space, however, healthcare access — and growth of it — is highly dependent on the size of the healthcare workforce, especially in the frontline jobs like nursing and allied health professions.

Growing the nursing workforce not only means recruiting more nurses to the field but also having enough slots in nurse education programs to train them. With slots in legacy, four-year nurse education programs increasingly maxed out, the need to bring more programs online has reached crisis levels. Meanwhile, employment of registered nurses will increase 7% through 2029, faster than the average for all other occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Wisely, more and more states have recognized the ability for community colleges to help fill the gap, given their strong existing healthcare training programs, extant facilities, skilled faculty and close relationships with healthcare providers. In approximately 12 states, state leaders have given community colleges the ability to help fill the gap by allowing them to issue bachelor’s degrees in nursing.

The State of Ohio recently joined the ranks of the states who have cleared away the barriers that once kept community colleges from issuing bachelor of science degrees in nursing. Ohio’s legislature made the change in this year’s state budget, thanks in no small part to the personal support of the change by the Ohio Senate’s President, Sen. Matt Huffman.

The advantages of the change are clear: with no further investment from the state, Ohio community colleges can now begin making a significant contribution to helping meet a workforce need that has long challenged our region’s healthcare providers, large and small.  The programs, faculty, facilities and relationships are all in place to quickly stand up high-quality bachelor of nursing programs. Furthermore, community colleges’ low costs and convenient locations favor students, which aids in recruiting to the nursing field.

Other Ohio education providers, especially private and for-profit ones, did not welcome additional institutions issuing bachelor’s degrees in this space. However, Ohio’s leaders wisely rejected market-protecting arguments and put the health of Ohioans first.

Today, more than ever, we must implement smart policies like this one to position our students, economy and employers on track for success for the years ahead. Community colleges are often the secret solutions to this progress. We’re doing our best when, as community college advocates, we erase the word “secret” from this sentence. The progress by community colleges across the country in helping fill the nursing gap is another good step in showing the world exactly all that our colleges and faculty can do. 

The nursing shortage isn’t the only workforce gap that needs to be filled. Others exist in the sciences and technical fields, especially in computer science and engineering.  Community colleges are filling the gap here, too, and there is more we can do. In Ohio and around the country, we look forward to continuing to successfully do our part to provide opportunity to students and economically vital workforce support for employers.

About the Author

Jack Hershey
is president and CEO of the Ohio Association of Community Colleges.