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By Paul Bradley  /  
2010 January 25 - 12:00 am

Carnegie Nursing Study Riles College Leaders

Despite the fact that community colleges educate almost half of all new nurses entering the profession, organizations like the American Nurses Association have long argued that an associate degree is nursing is inadequate preparation for working in the field.

Now, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching has echoed that position in a new study of higher education nursing programs, contending that a bachelor’s degree should be the minimum standard for working as a nurse.

“There is also disagreement over what education nursing practice requires, as the multiple points of entry to the profession indicates,” according to the study. “While. . .studies have demonstrated that better patient outcomes are achieved in hospitals staffed by a greater proportion of nurses with baccalaureate degrees compared to those with associate degrees, there has not been the political will to make it so. Even more serious than the different points of entry to the practice are the quality gaps in the educational preparation and teaching development of nursing faculty seen across all types of nursing programs.”

The findings of the study, entitled “Educating Nurses: A Call for Radical Transformation,” have dismayed community college advocates. George R. Boggs, president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges, said policymakers should be wary of choking off a critical supply of nurses at a time when it is badly needed.

“At a time when the nation has an urgent and growing need for nurses and other health-care professionals, we fail to see the logic or the advisability of constricting the nursing pipeline to reduce the number of graduates,” Boggs said in a statement. “We should be encouraging more students to aspire to nursing careers, then expanding support for and access to nursing programs at every level. To do otherwise is not only ill-advised, it is irresponsible.”

The report acknowledges that the nation faces a critical supply of nurses, and asserts that a lack of qualified nursing instructors at the college level is to blame.

“To meet current and projected shortages, nursing education programs need to increase their capacity by approximately 90 percent,” the report said. “However, these programs are faced with a severe shortage of faculty, making it difficult to expand; and the already small pool of qualified faculty is rapidly shrinking — almost a third are over the age of 55 and there is a dearth of baccalaureate-level nurses eligible to enter graduate programs. This has caused a sixfold increase in the number of applicants denied admission to nursing schools since 2002.”

Nurses with a four-year degree could go on to advanced degrees and fill the growing void of nursing instructors, the report said. It calls for community college nursing programs to articulate their programs at the two-year mark with an affiliated baccalaureate nursing program.

That is much easier said than done, Boggs said.

“At most of the 700-plus community colleges offering RN programs, wait lists of students unable to enroll due to capacity limitations are common and growing,” he said. “The importance of associate degree programs is especially critical to our rural communities, where 70 percent of new nurses are prepared via associate degree programs. In these small, sometimes remote locales, access to a four-year institution may be limited. And for minority students aspiring to a health care career, community colleges are also the most-often chosen option.”

Boggs also disputed the notion forwarded in the study that associate degree nurses are less qualified and skilled than their bachelor’s degree counterparts.

“It has been documented that associate degree nursing professionals pass the NCLEX test required to practice in the profession at rates similar to candidates prepared in bachelor’s programs and have a 98 percent placement rate within six months of graduation,” he said “It’s clear that the nation’s health-care employers see nurses with associate degrees as qualified and desirable professionals.”

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