Education Agreements in Massachusetts and North Carolina Will Help Nursing Students Earn BSNs

    • May 12, 2015
Nursing students working on a mannequin during a class

Nurses and nursing students in Massachusetts and North Carolina will have an easier time advancing their education, beginning this fall, thanks to agreements among academic institutions in those states.

In March, the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education finalized a policy that creates a more streamlined process for registered nurses (RNs) who wish to earn bachelor’s degrees in nursing (BSN). The agreement was approved last year and will be fully implemented this fall. Education officials in North Carolina announced a similar agreement in February that will also take effect this fall.

The statewide agreements come on the heels of another “articulation agreement” reached last year in Washington state. Read more about the agreement in Washington state here.

These agreements are designed to help nurses advance their education more easily—a key goal of a nursing report released in 2010 by the Institute of Medicine (IOM). More highly educated nurses are needed to deliver safe, high-quality, patient-centered care across all settings in a changing and more complex health care landscape, the report argues. It recommends that 80 percent of nurses hold bachelor’s degrees or higher by 2020.

“We know from research that nurses who advance their skills are better equipped to deal with the challenging medical cases presented by an aging population, within a health care system that is becoming more technologically complex,” Massachusetts Commissioner of Higher Education Richard M. Freeland, PhD, said in a brochure about nursing education. “It’s good to see our public colleges and universities collaborating to design the clearer academic pathways nurses need in order to pursue higher education.”

Nurses also benefit from the agreements, proponents say. More education opens doors to more opportunities for promotions and leadership positions.

“Through these agreements, our institutions are ensuring that students have opportunities not only to transfer to a public university, but to pursue specialized degrees in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible,” said Scott Ralls, PhD, MA, president of the North Carolina Community College System.

Confusion, Redundancy, and Delay

In many states, moving from associate degree nursing (ADN) to BSN programs is fraught with confusion, redundancy, and delay thanks to differences among academic institutions over prerequisite and general education requirements, limits on the number of transferrable credits, and other admissions criteria. These differences often lead to duplicative coursework and add to the time and expense involved in earning BSNs.

The new agreements in Massachusetts and North Carolina aim to resolve those problems.

The Massachusetts Nursing Education Transfer Policy simplifies and clarifies transfer processes; mitigates the need for individual agreements between public two- and four-year nursing programs; reduces the time it takes transfer students to earn BSNs; and reduces costs by eliminating unnecessary coursework and application fees for some students.

It was supported by a grant from Academic Progression in Nursing (APIN), an initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) in partnership with the Tri-Council for Nursing and administered by the American Organization of Nurse Executives.

The Massachusetts Action Coalition, a partnership of the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education and the Organization of Nurse Leaders of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, made the agreement a priority when it was created in 2011. The Massachusetts Action Coalition is a part of the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action, a joint initiative of RWJF and AARP that is working to implement the IOM report’s recommendations in all 50 states and in the District of Columbia. “We’re well on our way to implementation,” said Pat Crombie, MSN, RN, project director of the Massachusetts Action Coalition.

North Carolina’s new agreement, meanwhile, mirrors a more comprehensive articulation agreement by creating a uniform, statewide degree progression plan that streamlines and clarifies the route by which a registered nurse who has earned an associate degree in nursing in the North Carolina Community College System can apply to any of The University of North Carolina (UNC) System RN–to-BSN programs. It includes the general education and nursing prerequisite courses that, when successfully completed, will be accepted by each of the state-funded BSN completion programs.

It has been a priority of the North Carolina Action Coalition—which is also a part of the Campaign—since 2012 and was also supported by an RWJF APIN grant. Polly Johnson, RN, MSN, FAAN, CEO of the Foundation for Nursing Excellence in Raleigh, N.C., and co-lead of the North Carolina Action Coalition, called the deal “an amazing step forward,” adding: “We need to have a bonfire and dance in the streets.”

Read more about RWJF's work to promote seamless academic progression for nurses.