Transforming Nursing Education

Nurses must be prepared to meet increasingly complex health needs in all settings.


Goal and Impact

The nursing workforce must expand to meet America’s growing health needs. Nurses should see the value in building their knowledge, and the education system should encourage and allow them to do so, on an ongoing basis. Because the bachelor’s degree is the key catalyst to greater educational growth in the profession, nurses are encouraged to start their careers with a bachelor’s degree. For those nurses with an associate degree, the Campaign has identified five models by which nurses can attain higher levels of education by earning a bachelor’s either while or after obtaining an associate degree.  See resources related to linking a Culture of Health and nursing school education.

More education deepens the abilities of nurses to manage both the complexities of a person’s care and advanced technology—be it by allowing them to contribute decisively on a health care team, understand health policy, or analyze information to make critical decisions. The result: a stronger nursing workforce that can contribute even more to keeping Americans healthy.

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The Campaign aims to increase the proportion of nurses with baccalaureate degrees to 80 percent by 2020, and to double the number of nurses with a doctorate. Indeed, for the first time ever, starting in 2012, the number of nurses graduating with a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), including RN-to-BSN, has surpassed those earning an associate degree.

The number of students enrolled in RN-to-BSN programs increased 69 percent from 2010 to 2014. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Future of Nursing Scholars program, created to develop a new generation of nurse leaders, has contributed to the increase in PhD-prepared nurses: Enrollment in nursing-focused PhD programs is up nearly 15 percent, and enrollment in doctorate of nursing practice programs has increased 160 percent. Since 2010, the number of employed nurses with a doctoral degree has doubled, increasing from 10,022 to 21,180 in 2014. And the Campaign is promoting five promising education models to help nurses face fewer hurdles in obtaining advanced academic degrees; 30 states are enrolling nursing students in one of these models.

The five models:

  • RN-to-BSN degree from a community college. This model allows registered nurses to complete their baccalaureate degree at a community college.
  • State- or regionally shared outcomes-based curriculum. This model represents a common goal that extends across community college associate degree in nursing programs, and includes baccalaureate completion at the university level. The curriculum is not standardized but partners develop a shared understanding of standardized outcomes.
  • Accelerated options: RN-to-MSN. This model offers a shorter timeline than traditional BSN or master’s programs, so that those with associate degrees can obtain an advanced degree. The RN-to-MSN popularity is driven by more associate degree graduates returning to school to get an MSN without a BSN.
  • Shared statewide or regional curriculum. These collaboratives between universities and community colleges let students transition from an associate degree to a BSN program without repeating coursework.
  • Shared baccalaureate curriculum. This model shortens the time between nurses’ obtaining an associate and a bachelor degree. Community colleges work with colleges and universities that allows a student to take classes at both the community college and the university, obtaining an RN license only after completing the baccalaureate degree.


These graphs are part of the Campaign for Action Dashboard, a series of charts and graphs that show goals by which the Campaign evaluates its efforts to implement recommendations in the Institute of Medicine’s The Future of Nursing, Leading Change, Advancing Health.


Related Resources:

  1. Preparing Nursing Leaders: Article in the 2016 Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation Annual Report

    Feb 02, 2017

    An article on preparing nursing leaders for enhanced roles in primary care; to be part of a team; and to be nurse leaders and educators. more

    Issues: Building Healthier Communities, Transforming Nursing Education,

  2. Minnesota Aligns Nursing Education With Needs

    Feb 02, 2017

    The Minnesota Alliance for Nursing Education (MANE) has developed infrastructure and resources to help schols of nursing increase baccalaureate-prepared nurses.  MANE is an exemplar of the “Partnership Model” of academic progression, in which students entering a community more

    Issues: Transforming Nursing Education, Tools & Tips: Grantee projects, Location: Minnesota,


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