Why choose a community college for a nursing degree?

Five years ago, my response to that question would have been much different than it is now.  At that time, I was advising a family member and recommended that an associate degree program should be a back-up plan, a Plan B, for the remote possibility that she didn’t get accepted to the university baccalaureate program to which she applied.

When approached by another family last year, however, my unequivocal recommendation was to pursue an associate of science in nursing program as her first choice and Plan A. 

The evolution of nursing programs

Associate degree nursing programs have played an important role in the history of nurses. The first nursing education programs in the United States were termed nursing training programs and were run by hospital administrations. In the early 1900s, baccalaureate nursing programs were created in response to concern over a lack of standardization in the education and preparation of nurses in hospital-based programs.

After World War II, it became evident that hospital-based nursing programs and baccalaureate nursing programs did not graduate enough nurses to address the nursing shortage of the post-WWII era. Realizing the need to have well-prepared and well-educated nurses enter the workforce faster than the current programs could provide, the federal government supported the establishment of nursing programs in community and junior colleges. The idea behind these newly created programs was that they would prepare a technical nurse who would support the professional nurse.

Though it has waxed and waned, the nursing shortage continues to be a national concern.

Well-rounded and prepared

So, what changed for me? Getting involved with an associate of science nursing program as a dean and nursing administrator opened my eyes to the value of associate degree nursing programs. There is more to associate degree nursing than simply providing a faster way to get nurses in the workforce. No longer considered a technical nurse, those graduating with an associate of science in nursing degree take the same licensure exam as an entry-level baccalaureate nurse and work in the same entry-level professional registered nursing positions.

Students in associate degree nursing programs receive a well-rounded educational, taking courses in English, humanities, the sciences and algebra prior to entering nursing courses. Within the program, nursing courses focus heavily on the clinical application of nursing care and complete a high number of clinical hours. Nurse managers often seek out associate degree nursing graduates because they can hit the ground running in a new job. 

Students who choose to pursue this degree through community college save time and money. The Broward College associate of science in nursing program can be completed in less than two years, which means the graduate can move into the workforce in half of the time it would take to complete a nursing baccalaureate program.

Those who obtain registered nurse licensure are eligible to continue to a bachelor of science in nursing program. As most employers of nurses offer tuition reimbursement, earning a baccalaureate while working as a registered nurse offers a financial advantage. 

Good for the communities they serve

Associate degree nursing programs are good for the communities and the students they serve. Graduates are likely to remain living and working in their communities after attaining licensure. They also educate a population that is analogous to the community in which the college is located.

According to the Organization for Associate Degree Nursing, community college nursing programs graduate more Black and Latinx registered nurses than any other prelicensure nursing programs. Addressing health disparities has never been more important and for a profession that is made up of over 70% white, non-Hispanic nurses, graduating nurses with an understanding of those disparities and the ability to provide culturally competent care is key. 

On what we hope is the tail end of a pandemic, we again find ourselves in dire need of the people serving as the backbone of the healthcare system – registered nurses. Community colleges are poised to help fill registered nurse positions with highly competent graduates from accredited nursing programs, such as the one at Broward College. 

About the Author

Sara Turpel
is dean of nursing at Broward College in Florida.