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Editorial: Common sense needed in nursing degree debate

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If rest is the best medicine and an apple a day keeps the doctor away, then common sense needs a place at the table in discussions about whether community colleges should be able to award bachelor's degrees in nursing.

The issue has arisen in Springfield as the nation responds to an expected shortage of registered nurses and employers who want nurses with four-year degrees. Legislators need to consider the health care needs of the state's residents in making their eventual decision and pay less attention to university lobbyists.

As the growing baby boomer population ages, more nurses (and other medical workers) are needed to meet their health care needs. In addition, a report last year from the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation found that nearly one-third of registered nurses 55 and older plan to retire within the next five years, Lee Enterprises' Springfield bureau reported last week.

Illinois community colleges are pushing for the ability to award bachelor’s degrees in nursing. An Illinois Senate committee held a hearing on the proposal, but sponsor Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, said he doesn’t intend to move forward until after the General Assembly is seated in January.

In Illinois, registered nurses can work with an associate's degree from a community college, or with a bachelor of science in nursing, master's degree or doctorate from a four-year university or college. But, as with many jobs, society continues to give less credence to those with associate degrees compared to degrees awarded by four-year schools.

Fair? No. And if community colleges are willing to step up to expand their programs so nursing students qualify for a bachelor-level degree, they should be given the opportunity to offer them.

Under Illinois law, registered nurses can have either an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree. But nationally, a bachelor’s degree is the typical entry-level education required for a job as a registered nurse, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Some nursing jobs require advanced classwork, some require less. The question is whether community colleges should be allowed to award a bachelor's degree to a qualified student — and that's where the dispute comes in.

At its core, the debate centers on money and prestige. Community colleges and state universities all benefit from state funding and tax money. They also use the success of their students and their degree programs to entice new students and to ask for more money.

Such marketing is understandable, but those in charge — and the legislators who can make the decisions — need to take a long look at this current idea before dismissing it because of "this is how it's always been done."


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