Debate Over Community Colleges Offering Bachelor of Science Nursing Degrees

The field of nursing is at an inflection point. After decades of shortages, the nation has enough nurses. But many are about to retire, just as the boomer population needs more of them. Community colleges that already offer RN degrees are ready to step up and offer four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing degrees. But four-year colleges and universities are pushing back. An advisory board — the New Jersey Presidents’ Council — narrowly voted no. Its chair is also president of the Passaic County Community College. Dr. Steven Rose spoke to NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams.

Williams: Thank you for being here.

Rose: Glad to be here.

Williams: Why did the four-year presidents vote no?

Rose: Well, I think this vote had more to do with not just with nursing but I think we’re getting in their lane a little in terms of offering a baccalaureate degree. Nursing is what we are concentrating on.

Williams: But they were afraid that you were over reaching your mission and were going to compete with them. You can compete because community colleges cost less.

Rose: Well we do cost a lot less. You know here’s the story of nursing. We’ve been offering our associate’s degree in nursing which leads directly to becoming a nurse. The nursing field is changing. Nurses need that bachelor’s degree. We have been telling them that for years. We got wonderful partners of four colleges that offer what they call BSN Completion Programs where nurses can go complete. Unfortunately what we are finding with our students, only 29 percent of them over the past decade are able to go on to compete and it’s all about cost. Our students, they get a job, nursing pays well, but not well enough to go out and pay that $600, $800 a credit that many of the colleges are teaching. At a community college we are going to do it for $111.50 a credit, which is what we charge.

Williams: And what is the benefit of a more advanced degree of a Bachelor in Science?

Rose: The nursing field they’ve been doing this for probably 50 years and it’s professionalism of the field. Hospitals today are looking for that bachelor’s degree for entry into the field. We’ve been providing nurses for as long as we’ve been doing this. Most nurses are getting their start from us. We are just thinking this is the next step in what we have to do.

Williams: Now, ultimately whether or not community colleges are allowed to offer four-year baccalaureate in nursing is up to the commissioner of higher education?

Rose: The secretary of higher education. So what happens is our Presidents’ Council voted 19-18 against recommending it but it still goes on. We know we are exceeding our mission as a process in New Jersey for exceeding mission it goes to secretary of higher education. She will higher a consultant to look at it and I am optimistic. When we look at this particular program that they’ll see the benefit in opening the doors of access to so many students who just don’t have it now.

Williams: Opponents of allowing you to teach a four-year program say that community college underestimates the cost that is involved in offering a four-year program.

Rose: We’re doing the most expensive part of nursing right now. You know when you become an RN that’s when you are in the hospital learning all the clinical skills. The last part, BSN completion, is more things like public health care and leadership courses. It’s not the expensive part of nursing. So we are already doing the most expensive part.

Williams: So they’re making that part up?

Rose: Um, maybe they just don’t understand.

Williams: What about offering a bachelor’s? Would it cut into the enrollment of four-year colleges if you were able to offer a bachelor’s degree?

Rose: Certainly, some of the ones that are going to the four-year programs might choose to stay with us. But, I am not really aiming at those students. I am aiming that those 70 percent or so of our students who haven’t gone on.

Williams: Why nursing? You offer a myriad of courses for two-year associate’s degree. Why is nursing so critical right now?

Rose: Nursing is because the nursing field has changed and this requirement of the bachelor’s degree is something new. Only in the past five years have the hospitals really stepped up and are looking. Ten years ago our students were being hired by hospitals with signing bonuses because they were so in demand. Right now getting into those critical hospitals, which is where most of our nursing students want to end up, they are just not finding a path there without the baccalaureate. They just can’t afford to go on to the baccalaureate.

Williams: Steve Rose, thank you for being here.

Rose: My pleasure.