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 Frequently Asked Questions 

How do associate degree (AD) nurse graduates contribute to the nursing profession?

Associate degree-prepared Registered Nurses (RNs) educated at community colleges play an essential role in meeting nurse staffing needs. Associate degree-prepared RNs are the largest component of the pipeline of RN professionals in the U.S.  They account for 60 percent of all new RNs. In 2000, 42,665 people received the AD in nursing.

What types of students graduate from Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) programs?

Associate degree-prepared RNs graduates are more ethnically diverse, older, and more likely to have their own families than their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) counterparts.   Individuals who enroll in ADN programs may not have the means, mobility, and time to pursue a professional nursing career if a four-year degree program is required.  associate degree-prepared RN graduates are also more likely than BSN graduates to have local ties and tend to seek employment close to where they have been educated.  This tendency is especially critical for areas concerned with population retention and regional economic development, or for rural areas where it is difficult to import professional staff.

What is the goal of those who propose the removal of professional nurse status for Associate Degree RNs?

The essence of the campaign is to eliminate the ability of associate degree-prepared RNs to practice as RNs. The current scope of RN practice, now shared by ADNs and BSNs, would be overhauled.  Different state-level licensure examinations for ADN and BSN graduates would be implemented.  Removal of professional status of ADNs will surely result in a limited practice scope for associate degree-prepared RNs, relegate them to a status below RN, and fundamentally alter the RN profession.  Astonishingly, this effort to lower the status and career options of the associate degree-prepared RN is occurring concurrently with a severe nurse labor shortage.

What will be the effect of a campaign to bifurcate the current pool of RNs and thereby lower the status of associate degree-prepared RNs?

Restricting eligibility for professional RN licensure will exacerbate the well-documented, critical shortage of nurses that is projected to grow.  Enrollments in both associate and bachelor degree RN programs have declined, while the current nursing workforce ages.  In 2000, 71,000 nurse candidates sat for the RN licensure (NCLEX-RN®) exam; of these, 59.6 percent were associate degree holders. According to the Bureau of Health Professions, for the year 2000 the RN population per 100,000 patients stood at 782 RNs, down from a high of 798 four years ago.  Of course, the AD nursing degree allows students to enter the workforce more rapidly than if they enroll in a four-year program.  Many are then able to take advantage of employer-sponsored educational benefits to continue their lifelong learning and professional development.

Is there credible evidence that associate degree-prepared RNs are not providing high-quality patient care or are providing care at a level below that of RNs possessing the baccalaureate degree? 

No.  This is a remarkable fact, given the political progress made by those who seek to deny associate degree RNs professional status.  The pass rates for the RN licensure exam are comparable among candidates from bachelor degree (83.9 percent), associate degree (83.8 percent) and diploma (83.4 percent) granting institutions, thus indicating no significant difference.  In addition, documentation showing any type of systematic or even anecdotal disparity in clinical performance between ADNs and BSNs simply does not exist.

More education is a good thing. How can community colleges oppose making all professional nurses obtain a BSN?

Community colleges encourage RN graduates to articulate into advanced programs where appropriate.  In fact, thousands of BSNs received their first RN degree in associate degree programs.  Despite the tensions raised by the effort to splinter off ADNs from the RN profession, scores of ADN to BSN articulation frameworks exist across the country.  However, community colleges will continue to oppose the strategy of the BS RN advocates to redefine the professional nurse so as to deny opportunities to associate degree-prepared RNs, especially in the absence of evidence to support the concept that patient care and outcomes are improved when care is provided by BSNs. 

While BSN advocates focus on increasing associate degree RN enrollments in their undergraduate RN programs, Community colleges encourage associate degree-prepared RNs wishing to continue their education to enroll in RN to Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) programs.  Sixteen percent of associate degree-prepared RNs obtain a second undergraduate RN degree at a four-year program; those RNs an untapped resource in providing nursing programs with the nursing faculty so desperately needed to allow for increased nursing program enrollments.  In addition, MSN programs provide RNs with additional education that expands their scope of practice in specialty areas such as in geriatric care.

Hundreds of RN to MSN programs in 42 states and the District of Columbia enroll RNs without requiring a four-year degree (Bachelor of Science in Nursing).

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