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Working Together to Train the Next Generation of Michigan Nurses

A shortage in nursing students is a bigger issue than just empty seats in a classroom. Providing more BSN options means getting critical workers employed as quickly as possible.
A shortage in nursing students is a bigger issue than just empty seats in a classroom. Providing more BSN options means getting critical workers employed as quickly as possible.

It’s no secret that companies of all sizes in every sector are struggling to find, hire and retain highly skilled staff members. Healthcare is no exception to that trend. The shortage of these essential healthcare providers is being felt in all corners of Michigan and can sometimes mean the difference between life and death. Our state’s hospitals are looking to hire thousands of highly skilled registered nurses and increasingly requiring them to have their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). 

For years, there was a politically charged conflict in Michigan, as community colleges and four-year institutions disagreed on the right solution to get more nurses with their BSN into the field. Community colleges knew they had the ability to train more nurses, while four-year programs believed that they were best suited to deliver degrees at the baccalaureate level. This was a long-standing issue at the Capitol, and it didn’t seem like a solution was coming anytime soon.

While there was already a demand for more BSN nurses, once the pandemic hit, the nursing shortage exploded across the country. The need to get more nurses into the field quickly created an opportunity to do more, and Michigan’s community colleges were ready to help.  

Although there are strong nursing programs at Michigan’s four-year colleges and universities, those programs are out of reach for many state residents, especially those in more rural areas. For many, traveling or moving to a new part of the state for nursing school is not an option, so we set out to remove or at least reduce this barrier.

To help address the serious nursing shortage in healthcare settings, Michigan’s community colleges, in partnership with four-year postsecondary institutions and nursing workforce stakeholders, crafted a plan to get more highly trained nurses into the field, while increasing access and affordability of BSN programs. Thanks to a $56 million investment in this year’s state budget, community colleges will now be able to offer BSN completion courses on their campuses.

Through the program, each community college will be able to partner with a four-year college or university to design a collaborative BSN program. The four-year institutions will be responsible for conferring the bachelor’s degrees and designing, delivering and maintaining ADN to BSN completion programs including admissions, curriculum design and accreditation. The biggest difference is that BSN completion courses will be held on community college campuses, and qualified community college faculty may teach BSN courses as adjunct or part-time faculty at the four-year institution.

This is a game changer, as Michigan is home to over 30 community colleges spread out across the state. We even have a handful of community colleges and tribal colleges in the Upper Peninsula. For the first time ever in Michigan, a nursing student seeking their BSN has a much larger list of locations where they can take their courses, many of which may be close to where they already live or work. For many people, this kind of opportunity is only something they dream will happen.  

Michigan’s community colleges are uniquely positioned to increase access to this important training. Community colleges’ geographical locations will expand BSN program offerings into all corners of Michigan, particularly in rural communities who do not have a proximate university. Now, students who want to pursue nursing can do so close to home, in the communities where they want to work rather than traveling to a larger, further-from-home, four-year institution. These programs will be designed to be affordable and efficient, so students can quickly finish their bachelor’s degree—often while working as a registered nurse—without crippling student loan debt.   

This effort would not have been possible without the partnership of the Michigan Association of State Universities, Michigan Independent Colleges & Universities, Michigan Health & Hospital Association, Michigan Works! Association and the Michigan Association of Colleges of Nursing. The Michigan Legislature and Governor Whitmer demonstrated strong leadership by funding this innovative approach with federal funding. All these stakeholders worked together with the common goal of improving nursing training in Michigan, and the results are impressive.

This is what happens when organizations work together and set politics aside for the common good. This effort will be one key strategy for addressing the nursing shortage by increasing access to programming, reducing financial barriers to degree completion and getting more BSN-trained nurses into the field quickly. This common-sense solution is a win-win for everyone involved.

This innovative partnership will allow our state to become a leader for BSN nursing programs. Michigan’s community colleges are proud to be part of a collaborative solution that fills the critical need for more BSN nurses, in turn keeping residents across the state safer and healthier.