Community colleges can now offer BSNs in Oregon, which could help them address the state’s nurse shortage


Shane Ersland


Community college leaders are hopeful new legislation that allows them to offer a bachelor’s degree-level nursing program will help address Oregon’s nurse shortage

Lawmakers recently passed Senate Bill 523, which authorizes community colleges to offer bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN) degrees. They can now offer a post-licensure degree program in which individuals who have already received an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) can receive a BSN.


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Julie Downing, PhD, is an instructional dean at Central Oregon Community College (COCC) who advocated for SB 523. She told State of Reform the main reason a BSN program is needed at COCC is to help address the state’s nursing shortage. 

“Nurses can’t move up into a higher position without a BSN,” Downing said. “And we don’t have enough nurse educators. You have to have a master’s degree [to become one], and you can’t get a master’s without a BSN. Every school across the state is struggling to find nurses. We have to train nurse educators.”

The availability of more BSN programs will also help hospitals that are attempting to abide by the Institute of Medicine’s recommendation that 80 percent of nurses hold a bachelor’s degree. 

“There’s been a national decree that hospitals should have 80 percent of their nurses as bachelor’s prepared. (COCC’s) nursing program is an associate’s degree program. Most hospitals want new ADN nurses to obtain a BSN within their first five years.”

Julie Downing, instructional dean, COCC

COCC works closely with St. Charles Health System, and the hospital has requested that the college offer a BSN, Downing said. 

“Our program is a primary feeder for nurses at St. Charles,” she said. “Most of those nurses are associate’s-prepared. There’s data that shows there’s less mistakes, there’s a higher level of comprehension, if students get a BSN. With this Institute of Medicine (request) that they want 80 percent of nurses to have a BSN, St. Charles is hurting a little bit because most of their (nurses) are associate’s-prepared.”

COCC students have requested a BSN program as well, as they currently have to take classes online if they want to achieve that level of education, Downing said.

“Now, students are primarily going to Linfield online, Grand Canyon online, or Western Governors University. We have heard from students that wanted it. They know us, they know COCC, and we can offer it at a reasonable rate. But it’s not just our students that can apply to this BSN program. It’s for students from all over. It opens up doors for a lot of different folks.”

— Downing

A consortium of community college leaders have held regular discussions about the type of curriculum they could offer with a BSN program, Downing said.

“It’s likely we would be part of a consortium of seven to nine community colleges in Oregon that would go forward and do a statewide curriculum to do the same program at the same cost,” she said. “The consortium has been meeting for a year. The idea is that no matter what college you’re at, it would be the same curriculum. We don’t want to go this alone. We want to build a super-strong program. More schools working together is better.”

Next steps for COCC include getting a BSN program approved by the college’s board, collaborating on a curriculum with other consortium colleges, and developing a curriculum that would need to be approved by the state. 

“We’re working on that this summer. We would have to hire people, but the goal would be to open it in fall 2025. It takes a while to get these things in place.”

— Downing

Downing envisions the program serving 24-48 students a year at COCC. 

“We currently graduate 56 students a year out of our ADN, and a number of those students would go into it,” she said. “Some of [the work could] be done online. We don’t want it to be all online, but a good portion could be because some people might be working as a nurse as they complete this. The biggest thing is that our community needs choices to be able to get advanced degrees, and COCC would be an option. We want to meet the needs of our healthcare industry partners. It will improve patient care and our nursing shortage.”