Bill is solution to state’s nursing crisis

Texas needs to allow community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees in select high-demand fields, including nursing, to meet employer demands. Today in Central Texas, there are more than 5,000 job postings for registered nurses (RNs).  Senate Bill 2118, under consideration by the Legislature, would allow Austin Community College (ACC) to provide about 500 additional nurses each year to serve our community.

ACC’s nursing education program is among the top-ranked in the state and has been a trusted partner to area healthcare providers for more than 40 years. Each year, hundreds of students complete a rigorous program and go on to pass nurse licensure exams at rates exceeding state and national averages. If you’ve ever been treated in a local hospital, chances are an ACC graduate or student nurse has been part of your care team. 

Maintaining a strong nurse pipeline to keep pace with an aging population, nurse retirements and our rapidly growing Central Texas communities is an ongoing challenge. The Texas Center for Nursing Workforce Studies projects the demand for registered nurses in the state could exceed supply by almost 60,000 by 2030.

The issue is compounded by the push for nurses to achieve higher levels of education. To improve patient outcomes, the Institute of Medicine is calling for 80 percent of nurses in acute-care settings to hold bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degrees by 2020. Many current RNs with associate degrees in nursing are under pressure to meet the BSN requirement to remain employed. That’s why the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, regional business leaders and healthcare organizations including Seton Healthcare Family are recommending institutions like ACC be allowed to offer bridge programs that give RNs a manageable path to BSN degrees.

ACC stands well-prepared to assume this expanded role with an affordable, accessible RN-to-BSN program. Nursing students at ACC would pay less than half the cost of typical public university tuition. The college’s network of 11 Austin-area campuses (with a 12th under construction) means RNs could begin coursework while remaining close to home and jobs. Once accepted into the program, students would complete their degrees in state-of-the-art facilities, including ACC’s centrally-located Highland Campus.

Understandably, quality and rigor are important considerations for any nursing program. An ACC RN-to-BSN program would meet the same accrediting standards as traditional BSN programs. ACC faculty possess the same academic qualifications, related work experience, professional licensure and other competencies as university faculty.

An ACC RN-to-BSN program would extend and enhance an established program with a proven track record of success. The 95 percent licensure exam pass rate for ACC nurse graduates is about 10 percentage points higher than the state average, which includes graduates from traditional four-year programs.

As a growing number of states are discovering, community college RN-to-BSN programs make sense. Such programs are designed to allow nurses to continue working while they build upon their knowledge. They traditionally attract underserved and underrepresented students who might not otherwise have access to BSN programs, and graduates tend to stay and work in their communities.

Each year, thousands of Central Texans come to ACC to pursue better futures for themselves and their families.  Likewise, area employers rely on the college to prepare workers with the skills and knowledge needed for today’s jobs. With new educational pathways to strengthen the nursing pipeline, ACC can continue to provide the learning opportunities its students need to succeed and the region needs to maintain strong, prosperous communities.

Disclosure: Austin Community College District and Seton Healthcare Family have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Richard Rhodes

President/CEO, Austin Community College

Yvonne VanDyke

MSN, RN, Seton Healthcare Family