Oklahoma’s community colleges play a vital role in the delivery of health care services by educating nearly half of all incoming professional nurses. The role of community colleges in addressing the nursing workforce needs of Oklahoma is 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 total 49,641 (60%) Registered Nurses in Oklahoma have Associate Degrees in Nursing (ADN).
When students graduate from an accredited nursing school with an ADN, they are prepared to provide high-quality care while having received the education needed to pass the Registered Nurse licensure exam (NCLEX). Becoming a RN 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. Nurses who have their ADN are able to begin gaining experience after two years of nurse education.
Nursing is the heart of health care, and Oklahoma is projected to experience a shortage of RNs 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 struggling to expand capacity to meet the rising demand. The Oklahoma Board of Nursing reports that 40% of RNs in Oklahoma are 50 years of age 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 the executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Community Colleges