Rodríguez: Community college nursing programs need to be expanded
Evergreen Valley College in San Jose. Photo courtesy of San Jose-Evergreen Community College District.

    I recently had the honor and pleasure of attending the pinning ceremony for this year’s graduating class of nursing students from Evergreen Valley College. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the pinning ceremony dates back to the 1860s when Florence Nightingale was awarded for her service during the Crimean War. The ceremony represents the symbolic welcoming of new nurses into the profession.

    While watching each graduate walk across the stage and receive their pin, I was heartened by the emotion and excitement on their faces and the faces of their friends and family in the audience. But I was also struck by one creeping thought: Are we doing enough?

    According to the California Health and Human Services Agency, regions throughout the state are currently experiencing a nursing shortage. A recent report from UC San Francisco indicates the shortage has been exasperated by the COVID-19 pandemic. As I watched dozens of new nurses cross the stage and receive their pins, I couldn’t help but ask myself, are we doing enough as a society to make sure the demand for skilled workers in this vital field is being met? Unfortunately, the answer seems to be a resounding “no.”

    At Evergreen Valley College, we have one of the strongest and most highly regarded associate-level nursing programs in the state. According to data compiled by the California Board of Nursing, our students have among the highest first-time exam pass rates at more than 97.5%, which is higher than all but a handful of colleges and universities in California. In fact, going back to 2018, our students pass the exam on their first attempt 95% of the time.

    In addition, students must complete more than 800 hours of skills and clinical training, during which they are assigned to hospitals throughout the Bay Area. From our own internal surveys, we know that most Evergreen Valley College nursing graduates stay in California, with the vast majority remaining right here in the Bay Area.

    Evergreen Valley College offers programs for students who want to become certified nurse’s aides, registered nurses and licensed vocational nurses. We receive far more applications to these programs each year than we have space for, with physical capacity and availability of clinical placements limiting the number of nurses we are able to train each year.

    However, while there is a great need for nurses in these programs, there is even greater demand for bachelor’s degree-holding nurses, and the state’s community colleges are not currently being utilized to their full extent to meet this demand. I wrote recently about the need to expand community college bachelor’s degree offerings, and this is one such area where a big impact is possible by opening up more opportunities for community colleges to confer bachelor’s degrees in addition to associate degrees and certificates.

    California is often on the leading edge when it comes to innovation in higher education, but this is one area where we are falling behind other states.

    As a recent study in the American Journal of Nursing indicates, the number of community colleges offering bachelor’s degrees in nursing is growing across the nation. While we have made recent strides to increase and improve partnerships between California’s community colleges and universities when it comes to nursing bachelor’s degrees, we could be doing much more by allowing more community colleges to offer them. Community colleges also serve a much more diverse student body, which would enable the profession to become more diverse as more community college students enter the nursing ranks.

    Community colleges offer high-quality instruction and training at a much lower cost than universities and private nursing schools, and they are already woven into the fabric of the communities they serve throughout the state. If we are going to meet the demand for qualified nurses and avoid the looming crisis that an ongoing shortage would mean for many communities, we must leverage all available resources. Expanding community college nursing programs and degree offerings are among the most obvious and cost-effective ways to do both.

    San José Spotlight columnist Raúl Rodríguez is Interim Chancellor of San Jose-Evergreen Community College District, which operates San Jose City College, Evergreen Valley College, the Milpitas College Extension and the Community College Center for Economic Mobility. He can be reached at [email protected].

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