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2016 February 5 - 01:34 pm

NC Colleges Say No to Four-Year Nursing Degrees

State Will Ease Transfer Process for Aspiring Nurses

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina’s community college leaders declined a move toward offering four-year nursing degrees, saying such a step would raise questions about the mission of one of the country’s largest systems of two-year campuses.

The state’s community college board opted against launching a feasibility study into the pros and cons of offering a fouryear nursing degree. The board decided instead to develop online learning opportunities and make it easier for students to earn an associate degree and then transfer to a University of North Carolina campus for a four-year degree.

A study by community college leaders and health-industry groups examined ways to reach a goal of 80 percent of nurses in the state holding four-year degrees by 2020 as the health care environment gets more complex.

On one hand, the study said, community college campuses are spread statewide so that they are readily accessible to anyone who wants to attend. On the other hand, community colleges would need to invest heavily in teaching equipment and qualified instructors to offer the higher nursing degrees.

Community colleges accredited to offer four-year nursing degrees could then offer bachelor’s degrees in other fields, which would blur the line that distinguishes them from fouryear universities, the study said.

The need for nurses with higher education isn’t yet obvious, community college board member Breeden Blackwell said. He lobbies for seven southeastern North Carolina hospitals in the Cape Fear Valley Health System. He said the system has no plans to require nurses to have a four-year degree.

“We’ll take any two-year nurse because we think they’re just as good as the four-year nurse,” Blackwell said.

However, about half the state’s hospitals are moving toward requiring nurses to have a bachelor’s degree, said Sam Powell, a community college board member who headed the committee studying the issue. That’s largely because insurance reimbursements are more when higher-skilled nurses are involved, Powell said.

Nine states have community colleges that confer bachelor’s degrees in nursing, according to the Community College Baccalaureate Association. But because the mission of two-year colleges is primarily workforce training, often for people who are studying while holding down a job, their bachelor’s degree programs typically make up a very small fraction of school enrollments, association executive director Beth Hagan said.

Student Johnny George said he’d like the opportunity to complete his academic career at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte on his way to becoming an even-highertrained nurse practitioner.

“I’d stay there and wouldn’t go anywhere else. It’s convenient to where I live,” George said. “Plus, they already have a really good reputation with hospitals in the state for putting out pretty good nurses, so they have a leg up on some of the other schools.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the United States will need another 440,000 registered nurses by 2024. The government estimates the median pay for RNs was almost $67,000 a year in 2014.

Follow Emery P. Dalesio at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/ content/emery-p-dalesio

Also from EMERY P. DALESIO, Associated Press Writer

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