Commentary: Nursing bachelor’s degree programs at community colleges could be a game changer

Instructor Ju-An Broyles trains second-year nursing students at Golden West College.
Instructor Ju-An Broyles, center, trains second-year nursing students at Golden West College in March 2023.
(Eric Licas)
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As hospitals in Orange County continue to contend with high nursing vacancy rates following the COVID-19 pandemic, the California State Legislature is poised to pass Senate Bill 895, vital legislation that would make bachelor of science in nursing degrees more accessible through the creation of a BSN pilot program in 15 community college districts across the state.

We support this legislation because it promises to alleviate the statewide nursing shortage and bridge the gap between the industry’s growing preference for BSN degrees and the limited space in nursing programs at public universities, by far the most affordable option for many aspiring nurses. This issue is particularly pressing in Orange County where nine hospitals have achieved “Magnet Recognition” from the American Nurses Credentialing Center, widely considered the gold standard for professional nursing practice. To qualify for Magnet Recognition, hospitals must show that 100% of nurse leaders have a baccalaureate degree or higher.

However, nursing programs at public universities in Southern California are heavily impacted. In 2022-23, less than 8% of applicants to a public university BSN program in the Los Angeles/Orange County area were accepted. This is equivalent to roughly 700 enrolled students out of more than 9,000 qualified applicants.


Those unable to secure admission at a public university often turn to private institutions, resulting in substantial student debt. For example, a for-profit institution with one of the state’s largest nursing programs charges approximately $146,000 for a BSN degree. This high cost can be prohibitive for low-income communities and may explain why some communities of color are underrepresented in the nursing profession. In California, Hispanics and Latinos make up 40% of the population, but only 9% of the Registered Nurse workforce.

Community colleges are poised to help address this problem. Ten California community colleges already have an existing framework for a BSN through formal concurrent enrollment nursing programs with California State University campuses. Golden West College’s School of Nursing is one of the 10, having partnered in 2023 with California State University, San Bernardino to establish a Concurrent Enrollment Program (CEP) that allows students to earn credit for both their associate degree in nursing and BSN simultaneously, significantly reducing tuition costs.

California community colleges also have a demonstrated history of success. In 2022 California community college nursing programs had an 88% overall pass rate for the NCLEX, the standardized test required for nursing graduates to become a registered nurse in the U.S. This pass rate is on par with, if not higher than, that of many nursing programs at public and private institutions. At GWC, 99% of nursing students pass the NCLEX with a score above 90%.

Finally, community colleges have the ability to build dual enrollment career pathways from high schools to offer opportunities in the field to students from many different backgrounds — this is something that community colleges are uniquely positioned to do. Traditionally, it can take nursing students up to six years to complete their bachelor’s degree. Dual and concurrent enrollment programs at community colleges can reduce that time to three or four years, further reducing tuition costs. For example, GWC’s “Running Start to Nursing” dual enrollment program allows high school students to start take nursing prerequisite classes for free as early as 10th grade.

We know that California’s community colleges are ready to take on the challenge of graduating students with a BSN degree. The pilot program proposed by SB 895 would be a game changer for Orange County hospitals as it would help address workforce shortages, provide affordable education for underserved students and help hospitals with Magnet Recognition maintain the excellent standard of care for which Orange County is known.

Dr. Lorraine Prinsky is the president of the Coast Community College District Board of Trustees, and a professor emeritus at CSU Fullerton.

Dr. Alice Martanegara is the associate dean and director of nursing at Golden West College in Huntington Beach.