The Colorado Community College System (CCCS) today issued an appeal to state law makers to support legislation that will address a serious, looming gap in Colorado’s workforce: an acute shortage of nursing professionals with four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degrees. To help address this crisis, the CCCS is proposing a new pathway to success for nursing students by allowing CCCS colleges to offer a four-year BSN degree.

House Bill 18-1086, “Community College Bachelor Science Degree Nursing,” introduced Friday in the House of Representatives by Representative Janet Buckner and Representative Paul Lundeen, allows institutions that are part of the state system of community and technical colleges to offer a BSN degree. Senator Tim Neville and Senator Irene Aguilar are sponsoring the bill in the Senate.

“This legislation will have a significant positive impact on health outcomes in Colorado,” said Representative Janet Buckner. “It will help ensure that communities across our state have the skilled nursing professionals they need. And the state itself will benefit economically from increased earnings generated by a more highly-trained workforce, not to mention the tuition dollars that we’ll keep in-state.”

Unless action is taken to increase the options for obtaining a BSN degree, the consequences for Colorado could be dire. Data from the U.S. Department of Labor indicate an annual shortage of 490 nurses with BSNs beginning in 2014, rising to a cumulative shortage of 4,500 BSNs by 2024, which could mean that one in thirteen positions requiring a BSN goes unfilled. Projections show that the shortages will be most acute in Grand Junction, Pueblo, Colorado Springs, and Fort Collins.

“Many hospitals will only hire RNs if they sign a contract committing to complete a Bachelor’s degree within a certain timeframe – so getting a BSN isn’t a choice, it’s a requirement,” said Kelsie Guthrie, who is in her second semester of an Associate’s Degree in Nursing at Arapahoe Community College. “With expenses in Colorado on the rise, getting an education at a lower cost is incredibly important. If I have an affordable option to complete my BSN in Colorado, I most definitely will.”

76 percent of two-year nursing program graduates in Colorado either do not transfer anywhere – exacerbating the shortage of BSNs – or transfer out of state to complete their BSN degree, taking their tuition dollars with them.

“Workforce development is at the core of Colorado community colleges’ mission, and we are ideally positioned to help mitigate this crisis,” said System President Dr. Nancy McCallin. “We work continually to identify future needs of Colorado’s workforce, and to adjust our offerings to students accordingly. We are the most accessible and affordable option for students in Colorado. Enabling us to offer BSN degrees is a smart, practical solution to this looming BSN nursing shortage, and it’s the right thing to do for Colorado’s students and Colorado’s economy.”

“Spending less money to become more qualified seems like a no-brainer – taking on a financial burden isn’t something I want to think about when I’m going to school to learn to care for others, explained Josh Mickelson, also in his second semester of an Associate’s Degree in Nursing at Arapahoe Community College. “And the pass rates on nursing board exams (NCLEX) for community college grads are amazing!”