Bipartisan legislation introduced last week in the House and supported by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) aims to enhance the participation and funding of community colleges in federal nursing education programs. Reps. Juan Ciscomani (R-Arizona) and Sheila Cherfilu-McCormick (D-Florida) are the lead sponsors on the bill.
The Grants for Resources in Occupational and Workforce Training for Healthcare (GROWTH) Act of 2023 is short and straightforward. It directs the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), to prioritize community colleges for up to 50% of all Basic Nurse Education Practice Quality and Retention Grants, the largest federal undergraduate nursing education program. By a deliberate policy decision, associate-degree nursing programs have been denied access to this program, which currently is funded at $56.4 million.
Basic inequity at HRSA
Community colleges educate nearly 50% of all the nation’s new registered nurses but receive no support from this fundamental nurse education program. For AACC, this is highly inequitable. More importantly, it does not serve the public interest. The pending legislation would address this problem.
“As a proud graduate of Pima Community College [Arizona], I know how crucial these institutions are to students, the workforce and our communities,” Rep. Ciscomani said in releasing the bill. “These students should have the same opportunities and funding as their counterparts at a 4-year university.”
Crucial to nursing workforce
In a statement accompanying the bill’s introduction, AACC President and CEO Walter Bumphus observed that community colleges make an essential contribution to the country’s nursing workforce, conferring 75% of all associate nursing degrees in 2019-20.
“The community colleges’ highly qualified graduates work across the nation contributing greatly to local and regional workforce pipelines while earning family-sustaining wages,” he said. “These community college nursing programs play a critical role in the nation’s workforce but receive virtually no funding through the basic federal nursing program.”
The new bill would help these colleges secure badly needed resources to support and expand these costly educational programs while helping to broaden the nation’s nursing workforce and enhance patient care, Bumphus said.
Several Congressional members have joined the bipartisan legislation, including Reps. Reps. John James (R-Michigan), David Trone (D-Maryland), Jen Kiggans (R-Virginia) and Marie Glusenkamp Perez (D-Washington). The bill falls under the jurisdiction of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. AACC will continue to advocate for this legislation and for similar policies that enhance the essential role that community colleges play in educating the nation’s healthcare workforce.