Community colleges play an essential role in training nurses to meet the shortage of qualified professionals, but to have a successful program they must first set expectations.
With an already-looming nursing shortage worsened by two years of pandemic burnout, nurses are among the country’s most in-demand professions. However, filling the gap is more challenging than simply growing enrollment in programs. In fact, community colleges are struggling with a range of challenges in expanding their programs, which include a lack of qualified nursing instructors, the high cost of equipment necessary to run an effective program, and legislative restrictions on what kind of programs they are allowed to offer.
This places many community colleges in a difficult position. On the one hand, it is hard to imagine how the country will be able to respond to the gap in wages without the training community colleges provide. On the other hand, while community colleges face an urgent need to scale their programs, resources to do so are scant.
Additionally, while twenty four states currently allow some community colleges to award baccalaureate degrees in nursing, most states still prohibit it outright. Those states where community college baccalaureate degrees are legal often face other restrictions, as well as a laborious accreditation process.
All this creates a complicated environment for students who are trying to decide whether nursing is the right career path for them. As ever, the best resource community colleges can offer is information. Students who know what to expect will be better able to make choices for themselves, which in turn will lead to better outcomes for the programs and the community. Here are five expectations community colleges can set with prospective students to help guide them toward the program that is the best fit for them.
1. Nursing programs are competitive, and students should be prepared to maintain a high GPA.
Nursing programs are demanding. Many require prerequisites in humanities and science courses to give them a well-rounded background before they begin. To qualify for a nursing program, students need to do well in these courses and maintain a high GPA. Even then, some qualified students may not get into a program, or may end up on a waitlist.
Community colleges should be proactive in guiding students toward prerequisite programs that can be applied to other degrees, should the student not make it into nursing. No student should be faced with the expense of having to take additional prerequisites, and a student who does continue with a program is better for the community college than one who drops out from frustration.
2. Nursing is also physical, and students should consider shadowing a nurse before they enroll.
Nursing isn’t just academically difficult, it’s also physically challenging. Nurses will have to stay on their feet most of the day, lift and support patients, and respond quickly to emergencies even when they’re tired. They must also be prepared to be around bodily fluids and perform duties that many people find gross—all while treating their patients with compassion and dignity.
For some students, the realities of a nursing program can come as a surprise. Given that space in nursing programs is limited, community colleges should do their best to ensure that the students who get into them have realistic expectations. Programs that allow students to shadow nurses on the job can be a good way for prospective students to decide whether the career is right for them.
3. There are multiple paths toward a nursing degree.
As we mentioned earlier, although some community colleges offer bachelor’s degrees, most community colleges are only accredited for associate’s degrees. This should not deter students from applying, however. Gaining an associate’s degree in nursing is enough to become a registered nurse. From there, students can enter the job field and gain some work experience while they decide whether to pursue a bachelor’s degree.
Most associate’s degrees in nursing can be transferred toward a bachelor’s for students who want to start their education at a community college and gain some work experience. Taking this path is also more affordable for many students, as they are able to enter the job market and earn savings after only two years rather than four.
4. Nursing offers opportunities for lifelong learning.
Whether a nursing student is content with an associate’s degree or goes on for a bachelor’s, there are likely to be plenty of opportunities for further education as they move through their nursing career. Graduate degrees in nursing can be another way for students to advance their careers, and pacing coursework out over a year lets students make decisions based on personal experience.
There are also many certification opportunities that can allow nurses to specialize in specific fields, such as in oncology, palliative care, neonatal care, or mental health.
5. There are adjacent career paths for students who aren’t sure if nursing is the right fit.
Some prospective students may decide that nursing is not the best choice for them, even though some aspects of the career seem like a good fit. The good news is that there are many related careers that are also in high demand and which promise stable jobs for years to come. These include:
- Health care administration
- Dental assistant
- Physical therapy assistant
- Surgical technology
In other words, students who want to work in the healthcare system have opportunities in administration, as technicians, as patient advocates, and as assistants in related fields. Community colleges that are finding themselves swamped with applicants for nursing programs may find that some of their students would be more interested in these other career paths—but only if they’re aware of them.
The better informed prospective nursing students are, the better outcomes nursing programs will have.
Community colleges can’t afford to have nursing students drop out. Because these programs are expensive and space is limited, students who don’t complete their degrees in their first year mean fewer students filling second-year programs. A program with a high drop-out rate may make it harder for a school to gain funding for future projects as well.
Most importantly, dropping out of a program like nursing is costly for the students themselves—both financially and psychologically. Community colleges serve their students best by ensuring that anyone applying for their nursing programs goes in with clear eyes and realistic expectations.
At Aperture Content Marketing, our expertise lies in helping community colleges create information-driven content marketing campaigns for their programs. We have archives of well-researched articles detailing the state of job markets around the country, and can help you assemble print magazines, informational microsites, and social media posts to educate your prospective students as they consider their future. Contact us today to get started.