- Courtesy of Margaret Beaty/Pikes Peak Community College
- Pikes Peak Community College nursing aide students participate in class during their two-year program. By as early as fall 2019, students will be able to go for a four-year degree.
But a state bill that became law on March 24 to much fanfare aims to alleviate that problem by allowing community colleges, which could previously only offer two-year nursing degrees, to offer four-year programs.
Pikes Peak Community College President Lance Bolton testified on behalf of House Bill 1086, and is eager to begin implementation of a four-year nursing program at PPCC, which already has an associate degree for nursing. “We’ve been aware of this shortage before,” Bolton said. “We’ve seen, certainly, the numbers on the shortage. I think what changed the conversation, what raised the level of urgency about it, was the hospital directors and leaders saying we’re really approaching a crisis with the nurses shortage.”
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Colorado had an annual shortage of 490 nurses with four-year degrees beginning in 2014, which is expected to rise to a cumulative shortage of 4,500 nurses with four-year degrees in 2024.
Interestingly, Colorado and the nation both have nursing shortages, but for different reasons. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, “U.S. nursing schools turned away 64,067 qualified applicants from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs in 2016 due to an insufficient number of faculty, clinical sites, classroom space, clinical preceptors, and budget constraints.” The reason for that, the AACN states, is the rising age of faculty — an average age of 62.2 for a professor — in conjunction with the heavy wave of retirees.
But the problem in Colorado is quite the opposite. It is not that there are too many students in-state, but too few. Seventy-six percent of two-year nursing graduates either leave the state to complete their bachelor’s degree or do not complete one at all.
Bolton notes, “For us to educate a nurse in a two-year program and have them leave the state to go into a four-year program, that’s a loss to the workforce and the economy in the area.”
Though PPCC is introducing its first four-year degree this fall — in emergency services administration — Bolton says that realistically, the bachelor’s in nursing won’t be offered until either fall of 2019 or ’20.
“We just don’t have a timeline,” Bolton said. “We’re pulling all of our nursing directors together and we’re going to try to work on when the launch will be.”
As for curriculum, Bolton said PPCC will continue to require 90 percent or more of the clinical training during the first two years. The third and fourth years will be a mixture of online and in-person courses. He also expects a combination of daytime, night and weekend classes to accommodate the large sector of working-professional students at the school.
While offering options is important at a community college, PPCC won’t lean too heavily on online courses. Much of the feedback from nursing students Bolton has received has been positive about the in-person, hands-on approach to the nursing curriculum.
“We don’t want to go in a direction of being 100 percent online,” he said. “We are committed to having what we call ‘brick-and-mortar’ classes.”
HB1086, the bill that allowed for PPCC’s program, was sponsored by Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument; Rep. Janet Buckner, D-Aurora; Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton; and Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver.
“This is the sweet spot of policymaking,” Lundeen told the Independent. “It’s one of those opportunities where the state can open pathways for opportunities for students moving forward. … For me, as a conservative legislator, it’s kind of the Holy Grail.”
But not everyone was a fan. The Denver Post reports that Gov. John Hickenlooper, who let the bill become law without signing it, had objections to the measure. The Post explained that the governor thought it allowed, “the state’s two-year institutions to bull their way into an arena already occupied by four-year colleges and universities.”
Four-year colleges and universities also came out against the bill initially, though many were satisfied with tweaks that clarified that community colleges would be offering “completion degrees” for students who have already finished an associate degree — a distinction from offering bachelor’s degrees for first-year students — as well as a requirement for annual reports on the programs to the Colorado Department of Higher Education.
“The communities in the four-years realized, yeah, we’ve got a societal problem,” Lundeen said. “Community (colleges) are important to the solution.”
“I think that what was nice is that, in the end, the four-year universities were willing to go neutral on this bill,” said Aguilar. “That shows they recognize that we do have a shortage and we aren’t able to keep up with it.”