Public and Private Institutions Partner to Produce More Nurses, More Quickly

Joint degree programs between private and public colleges are being embraced as a way to meet growing demand for nurses with bachelor's degrees -- in less time.

November 21, 2018

Public-private partnerships between universities and community colleges are growing as national demand for nurses with bachelor's degrees is increasing. The institutions are attempting to stave off a projected shortfall of more than a million nurses in coming decades.

Mount Mary University in Wisconsin, a private institution, joined this trend last year when it teamed up with Milwaukee Area Technical College and Waukesha County Technical College, both public institutions, to offer a "1-2-1" nursing program that allows students to earn associate and bachelor's degrees in nursing simultaneously.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Stritch University, also located in Wisconsin, has been piloting a concurrent enrollment model that also allows nursing students to earn both degrees.

“We’re hearing from our community partners and our clinical affiliates in southeast Wisconsin that they need an increased number of bachelor-prepared nurses,” said Kara Groom, chief nurse administrator at Mount Mary. “We hope to expand our partnerships, but we began with those technical colleges close to us geographically.”

Most students who attend the Catholic women’s institution are from the metropolitan Milwaukee area. The university currently has 46 nursing students in the 1-2-1 program.

Students in a 1-2-1 program spend the first year taking required prerequisite courses at the university and the second and third years taking nursing courses at the community college and doing clinical work. Students are eligible to graduate with associate degrees at the end of the third year of study, at which time they can also take the licensure exam to become registered nurses. The fourth year of the program is offered completely online and earns students a bachelor’s degree.

“The last year is designed to meet the part-time student’s need,” Groom said, adding that offering the courses online allows students to begin working as nurses.

Cardinal Stritch administrators started its partnership with Gateway Technical College in 2016 after hearing from Milwaukee-area hospitals and health facilities about a need for nurses with bachelor's degrees.

“The program is very streamlined to ensure that these nursing students who are at a technical college can complete the B.S.N. very quickly,” said Kelly Dries, dean of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences at Cardinal Stritch.

Students in the program take the heaviest course load in the first semester, Dries said, and like at Mount Mary, they complete the final year online.

Cardinal Stritch has enrolled seven students so far in the dual-enrollment program and recently established partnership agreements with the technical colleges in Milwaukee and Waukesha County. Dries said the university is planning to soon launch a marketing campaign to help increase the number of students participating.

Nursing programs and associations applaud these partnerships and say more of them may be needed across the country to help increase the number of people in the nursing field. The state’s Center for Nursing Research estimates that Wisconsin will be facing a shortage of 20,000 nurses by 2035. Nationwide, there are about three million nurses, but the American Nurses Association contends the country will need to produce more than one million new registered nurses by 2022 to meet health-care needs.

The National Academy of Medicine, formerly the Institute of Medicine, published a report in 2010 recommending the percentage of nurses in the field with a bachelor's degree increase from 49 percent to 80 percent by 2020.

In 2016, 54 percent of nurses held a bachelor's degree, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey.

That recommendation has led some health agency employers and hospitals to require nurses to either have a bachelor's degree or to earn one within a set period of time, as a condition of their employment.

Whether the associate or the bachelor’s degree should be the decisive credential for entry into the nursing profession has been the subject a long-running debate in the nursing industry. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing, which represents four-year and graduate nursing educators, views the bachelor’s degree as the minimal entry-level credential for the field.

“AACN is a strong proponent of academic progression in nursing with the goal of preparing registered nurses with a minimum of a baccalaureate degree in nursing,” Robert Rosseter, chief communications officer for AACN, said in an email. “We encourage universities to partner with community colleges and offer seamless educational pathways from an associate degree to the baccalaureate degree in nursing.”

Donna Meyer, the chief executive officer for the Organization for Associate Degree Nursing, said the organization has traditionally supported the two-year degree as an entry point into the nursing profession.

“OADN totally supports the innovative academic partnership models,” said Meyer, in an email. “OADN supports lifelong learning and academic progression and believes all pathways are important to meet the nursing workforce and ultimately health care needs of the country.”

Jenny Landen, dean of the School of Health, Math and Sciences at Santa Fe Community College, said the dual-degree partnerships aren't likely to end the debate but will certainly help increase the number of nurses with bachelor’s degrees.

In the interim, more nursing school students are graduating with associate degrees than with bachelors, she said. In 2016, 81,633 nurses with associate degrees received their licenses, compared to 72,637 nurses with bachelor's degrees, according to OADN.

“We have a shortage of nurses, and we have a lot of industry partners,” she said. “In certain pockets of [New Mexico], they want registered nurses. They want them quickly, and they don’t see the value of spending more money and time to get that bachelor’s nurse.”

New Mexico adopted a statewide curriculum a few years ago that encourages community college and university partnerships based on the dual-enrollment model.

More nursing partnerships between two- and four-year institutions are also emerging in the public sector. Salt Lake Community College and the University of Utah are building a partnership, as is Sinclair Community College in Ohio and its neighbor, the University of Dayton.

Landen said these partnerships between community colleges and universities also lead to more nurses pursuing the graduate degrees needed to increase the number of nurse educators.

Although there currently aren't enough spots available at many university nursing programs to accommodate more students earning bachelor's degrees, the New Mexico model shows there are other paths available for community colleges to help fill that need, she said.

“When community colleges and universities partner, we can raise the number of available bachelor’s degrees … it’s a win-win,” Landen said.

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Ashley A. Smith

Ashley A. Smith, Reporter, covers community colleges, for-profit schools and non-traditional students for Inside Higher Ed. She joined the publication in 2015 after covering government and K-12 education for the Fort Myers News-Press in Florida for three years. Ashley also covered K-12 and higher education for three years at the Marshfield News-Herald in Wisconsin. She has interned with The Flint Journal, USA Today and the Detroit Free Press. Ashley grew up in Detroit and is a 2008 graduate of Michigan State University. 

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