LANSING — A disputed education bill would allow Michigan’s community colleges to compete for the same nursing students who would otherwise enroll at a traditional four-year program in the state.
The bill, stalled in the Senate for more than three months, would allow the state’s 28 community colleges to award four-year Bachelor of Science degrees in nursing, or BSNs.
An associate degree in nursing takes two years to complete, but an increasing number of hospitals now require the BSN as an entry-level credential, said Michael Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association.
The extra two years needed to earn a BSN are primarily classroom-focused, in areas such as health policy and leadership.
“It puts a lot of burden and pressure on students that maybe live in Alpena, Traverse City or Benton Harbor and don’t have access to a four-year provider and would like to get their BSN at a local community college for a quarter of the cost,” Hansen said.
“The health care industry is behind this legislation because they see it as a workforce issue.”
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, would also authorize community colleges to award bachelor’s degrees in allied health professions such as technicians, information technology and manufacturing technology.
“It’s getting a lot of pushback from the universities, who see this as an invasion on their turf,” Hansen said. “I think they fear the competition. They see it as an unfair advantage since we have property tax revenue and can offer discounted tuition.”
Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., D-East Lansing, who opposed the bill in committee, said, “The problem is in residency placements of high-level nurses that want to teach in these programs. So by spreading that out even further, we’re not actually solving the problem that we have and are just making the problem worse in many ways.”
There are more than 100,000 registered nurses in the state, according to a 2015 study by the Michigan Center for Nursing, a project of the Michigan Health Council.
About 69 percent of active RNs work in either a hospital inpatient or outpatient setting. Only 5 percent work in a nursing education setting, however.
As the proportion of older Michigan residents grows and the number who obtain insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act increases, so does the demand for nurses, according to Ruth Freebury, director of nursing and allied health at West Shore Community College in Scottville.
“I think that it’s between the age of nurses right now, their retirements, and the tsunami wave of baby boomers that we have coming — that is going to make employment for nurses good going forward,” Freebury said.
The study indicates 38 percent of active registered nurses are 55 or older, and 43 percent of active RNs plan to stop practicing within 10 years.
Laura Wotruba, director of public affairs of the Michigan Health and Hospital Association, said, “You have the baby boomer population, and as they exit the workforce, we need enough people to fill those spots.
“So it’s not only are we training enough right now, but are we training enough to fill the spots that are going to be emptying in the next few years as people make the choice to retire?”
Though both sides agree there’s a need for more instructors in the state, not everybody says there’s a nursing shortage.
Robert LeFevre, president of the Michigan Independent Colleges and Universities, said, “The U.S. Department of Labor Statistics from 2012 to 2025 shows that, in Michigan and nationally, we have a surplus of nurses.”
According to LeFevre, between associate degrees, bachelor degrees and master degrees, there are 38 nursing programs in Michigan. Adding more would exacerbate the instructor shortage and not remedy it.
“The expense of adding programs to the community colleges is much greater than they’re admitting to,” LeFevre added. Community colleges may implement “huge tax increases to pay for programs that are already available virtually everywhere in the state,” he said.
The Michigan Center for Nursing found 47 percent of Michigan RNs hold a bachelor’s degree in nursing — up 7 percent since 2011, while the proportion of associate degrees has gone down.
Southeast Michigan has the largest distribution of BSN-educated nurses at 52 percent. The North Central region has the lowest proportion of BSN-educated nurses at 36 percent. More than half of active RNs in the same region hold an associate degree.
A 2010 report by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies recommends 80 percent of registered nurses nationwide earn bachelor’s degrees by 2020.
The Community College Association’s Hansen said, “We’re just trying to offer these degrees to students that can’t afford it now or live too far away from a university.
“Maybe they’re working full time and can’t attend full time. For those students, community college is about the only other option they have, so we’re just trying to respond to that.”