Point of View: Oklahoma's community colleges important to health care
“Nurses may not be angels, but they are the next best thing.” — Anonymous Patient
Oklahoma’s community colleges play a vital role in the delivery of health care services to the citizens of Oklahoma by educating nearly half of all incoming professional nurses. The role of community colleges in addressing the nursing workforce needs of Oklahoma is particularly significant in rural areas.
Twenty Oklahoma communities have two-year colleges that provide entry points to professional nursing via the associate degree in nursing programs. In 2018, Oklahoma’s community colleges prepared 974 of the 2,034 candidates to take the professional nursing examination (NCLEX), the passage of which is a requirement to become a registered nurse in Oklahoma. In fact, the Oklahoma Board of Nursing 2019 Annual Report states that 29,783 of the 49,641 (60%) registered nurses in Oklahoma have associate degrees in nursing (ADN).
When students graduate from an accredited nursing school with an associate degree in nursing, they are fully prepared to provide high-quality care while having received the education needed to pass the registered nurse licensure exam (NCLEX). Becoming a registered nurse by earning an ADN degree offers significant advantages. According to statistics published by Glassdoor, RNs who are graduates of ADN programs earn an average base salary of $69,270, with a range of $47,000 as a low and $91,000 as a high. As work experience grows, so too does salary, and nurses who have their ADN are able to begin gaining experience after just two years of nurse education.
Nursing is the heart of health care, and Oklahoma is projected to experience a shortage of registered nurses that is expected to intensify as Baby Boomers age and the need for health care grows. Compounding the problem is the fact that nursing schools are already struggling to expand capacity to meet the rising demand for health care. The Oklahoma Board of Nursing reports that 40% of registered nurses in Oklahoma are 50 or older.
Policymakers should take note that ADN programs not only offer impressive return on investment for the individual, but these programs provide the best value in addressing the nursing workforce needs for all Oklahoma citizens.
Davidson is executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Community Colleges.