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Community College Programs Key to Solving Nursing Shortage

WASHINGTON, March 28, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — All programs educating students for licensure as registered nurses, whether they offer associate or bachelor’s degrees, are essential to solving the nation’s nursing shortage, says a new policy brief released today by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC).

The brief, A Data-Driven Examination of the Impact of Associate and Bachelor’s Degree Programs on the Nation’s Nursing Workforce, analyzes the 2008 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses to demonstrate that federal data support the value of associate degree registered nursing programs. As the nation implements healthcare reform to address the demands of an increasingly diverse and aging population, the brief weighs in on a decades-long debate about whether the bachelor’s degree should be the required threshold for entry to practice. Counter to assertions by baccalaureate proponents that four-year nurses are better skilled, the brief underscores the similarity of professional competency for both 2-year and 4-year graduates.

Nursing remains a thriving and growing profession where substantial shortages persist. There will be 581,500 new jobs for registered nurses by 2018, representing a 22% increase in employment. The number of available jobs will soar even higher when factoring in retirements, resulting in 1,039,000 available jobs that will need to be filled by 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Employment and Training Administration.

A majority of the nation’s registered nurses are currently educated through 2-year associate degree nursing programs. Approximately 56.6% of registered nurses graduating in 2005 or later received their degrees from associate degree nursing programs.

Further, associate degree programs provide the greatest number of minority registered nurses and are especially critical to healthcare in rural communities. Two-year programs educate 54.7% of black and 55.1% of Hispanic registered nurses, while educating 57.2% of RNs working in rural communities.

“In a time of growing need, community colleges provide the most accessible and affordable route into the nursing profession,” said Walter G. Bumphus, president of AACC. “The education our colleges provide is the backbone of competent, consistent and adequate healthcare for the nation.”

Although academics have long debated the relative merits of associate and bachelor’s degree programs in nursing, the policy brief notes that all of these programs do comparable jobs at preparing nurses for licensure. In 2009, 89.9% of diploma-prepared nurses passed the nursing licensure exam, while 88.7% of bachelor’s degree holders passed, and 86.6% of associate degree nurses passed.

The policy brief notes that employers are equally likely to hire associate and bachelor’s degree educated registered nurses. A greater number of associate degree prepared nurses are employed full time (68.4%) than nurses prepared in bachelor’s degree programs (64.2%).

Associate degree nursing programs at community colleges are more affordable. On average, it will cost a nursing student $6,120 in tuition for an associate degree program at a community college. By contrast, it would cost $16,648 to complete an associate degree in nursing at a public 4-year college, and $28,080 to complete a bachelor’s degree at a public 4-year college.

Despite the fact that associate degree nursing programs provide the most cost-effective pathway to the nursing profession, federal and state funding supports fewer nurses in these programs at community colleges, notes the policy brief. Associate degree holders are more likely to finance their own nursing education through healthcare related employment and personal savings.

The policy brief was supported by Lumina Foundation for Education and is available online at

About AACC 

Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the American Association of Community Colleges is the leading advocacy organization representing close to 1,200 community, junior and technical colleges nationwide. Community colleges are the largest sector of higher education, enrolling 12.4 million credit and non-credit students each year. To learn more about the AACC, visit

About Lumina Foundation for Education

 Lumina Foundation for Education, an Indianapolis-based private foundation, is committed to enrolling and graduating more students from college—especially 21st century students: low-income students, students of color, first-generation students and adult learners.  Lumina’s goal is to increase the proportion of Americans who hold high-quality degrees and credentials to 60 percent by 2025.  Lumina pursues this goal in three ways: by identifying and supporting effective practice, through public policy advocacy, and by using our communications and convening power to build public will for change. To learn more about Lumina Foundation for Education, visit

About the Health Professions Education Center

The American Association of Community Colleges’ Health Professions Education Center (HPEC) focuses on supporting and broadening the community college role in the health professions workforce. In recognition of growing national concern about America’s health-care workforce needs, HPEC emphasizes building partnerships and engaging in the efforts of others focused on ensuring that community colleges can provide quality health-care professionals to their communities, including those in rural America. HPEC is funded and will continue to rely upon AACC membership support for its activities.

SOURCE American Association of Community Colleges


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