Beth Martin, a former student at Front Range Community College, earned her A.A.S. in Nursing in 2015. Courtesy Front Range Community College

Community colleges seek to add BSN degree

Colorado suffers from an acute case of a nursing deficiency, and its community colleges are hoping the state Legislature provides a cure.

Last year saw 21,000 job listings for registered nurses with a bachelor’s degree, and 80 percent of those were for entry-level positions, said Nancy McCallin, president of the Colorado Community College system, which includes the Front Range Community College campuses in Fort Collins, Loveland, Longmont and Brighton.

At least 500 positions requiring a bachelor of science in nursing degree go unfilled each year in Colorado, which will result in a cumulative shortage of 4,500 nurses with BSNs by 2024.

“If there isn’t a workforce shortage here,” McCallin said, “I don’t know what is. Hospitals are having to hire traveling nurses from out of state,” she said, adding that if they obtain their degrees somewhere else, “that money’s going out of state, and it raises health-care costs in Colorado.

“We believe we can be a piece of the solution and help alleviate that huge, huge shortage.”

The prescription: House Bill 1086, a nursing-education bill that would let community colleges offer the four-year nursing degree that hospitals increasingly are requiting instead of just a two-year associate’s degree that leads to licensure as a registered nurse. Work toward a BSN includes leadership and management training that’s not part of the two-year RN program, and a BSN also is required if a nurse wants to get a graduate degree and teach.

The state’s major public universities offer four-year BSN programs, as do the public Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction and Glenwood Springs-based Colorado Mountain College, as well as the private Colorado Christian and Regis universities, but McCallin said “our tuition for the program would be about $26,000, whereas Mesa is about $45,000 and the private institutions run anywhere from $65,000 to $175,000.

“We know we can do it affordably,” she said.

“Our colleges have made significant investments in state-of-the-art equipment and simulation labs to create robust nursing programs that we can scale to offer four-year BSN degrees,” she said. “Thus, this legislation provides a cost-effective way to expand the number of BSN nursing graduates in Colorado. Our colleges already educate and train high-quality registered nurses who greatly contribute to the health and well-being of their communities. Allowing us to offer bachelor of science degrees in nursing is the smart thing to do to address the overwhelming shortage of bachelor-prepared nurses.”

HB 1086 was born in Colorado Springs through discussions between Memorial Hospital and Pikes Peak Community College. CU officials testified against the measure when it was being heard in the House in February, and Colorado Mesa, Regis and Colorado Christian also expressed opposition.

Especially for officials at CU’s School of Nursing and Anschutz Medical Center, the issue was “mission creep,” but McCallin said the BSN program would clearly follow the community college system’s mission of addressing workforce issues.

“We have made a number of compromises they felt were good,” she said,” and they are now neutral about the bill. It limits us to doing RN-to-BSN completion programs as opposed to a traditional BSN, where a student goes to the same school for four years. We agreed that we’d accept into our BSN program only those who already had an RN.

“It’s a much more detailed prescriptive process, which is something none of the other four-year nursing programs have to go through,” she said. “It’s to assure we did not compete with the four-year institutions, but it allows us to add capacity to the system.”

The bill as written applies only to the Colorado Community College system, the state’s largest system of higher education, serving 137,000 students annually at 13 colleges and 39 locations across Colorado.

McCallin said she called Dr. Leah Bornstein, president of Aims Community College in Greeley, about being included in the legislation, but “she was not interested in being in the bill at this time. She felt what they had going with UNC was working well.”

Aims partners with the University of Northern Colorado for their bachelor’s in nursing program, said Laura Coale, executive director of communication and public information for Aims. Last spring saw the first graduating class from that collaboration, she said.

HB 1086 hit a snag in late February over what authority the Colorado Commission on Higher Education would have over the program. Colorado Mesa had backed a bill last year that stripped CCHE of its authority to approve new or modified degree programs, but this year lawmakers were urged to require community colleges to seek CCHE approval.

“I am a firm believer that market competition is essential to minimize costs and maximize benefits to Colorado’s health-care consumers,” said bill sponsor Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument. “There’s a demand for nurses with BSN degrees, and we should let the market respond. This policy will help level the playing field, and ensure that Colorado’s nursing students have additional options for their education that are accessible and affordable.”

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See additional health care stories from BizWest’s March 2018 edition:

BCH integrates behavioral, physical health

Good Sam treatment targets liver cancer

Legislature serves up health-care solutions

Health-care pricing remains opaque

Colorado suffers from an acute case of a nursing deficiency, and its community colleges are hoping the state Legislature provides a cure.

Last year saw 21,000 job listings for registered nurses with a bachelor’s degree, and 80 percent of those were for entry-level positions, said Nancy McCallin, president of the Colorado Community College system, which includes the Front Range Community College campuses in Fort Collins, Loveland, Longmont and Brighton.

At least 500 positions requiring a bachelor of science in nursing degree go unfilled each year in Colorado, which will result in a cumulative shortage of 4,500 nurses with BSNs by 2024.

“If there isn’t a workforce shortage here,” McCallin said, “I don’t know what is. Hospitals are having to hire traveling nurses from out of state,” she said, adding that if they obtain their degrees somewhere else, “that money’s going out of state, and it raises health-care costs in Colorado.

“We believe we can be a piece of the solution and help alleviate that huge, huge shortage.”

The prescription: House Bill 1086, a nursing-education bill that would let community colleges offer the four-year nursing degree that hospitals increasingly are requiting instead of just a two-year associate’s degree that leads to licensure as a registered nurse. Work toward a BSN includes leadership and management training that’s not part of the two-year RN program, and a BSN also is required if a nurse wants to get a graduate degree and teach.

The state’s…