NC community colleges should pursue four-year nursing programs

UNC nursing school students get hands-on experience with a human patient simulator.
UNC nursing school students get hands-on experience with a human patient simulator. clowenst@newsobserver.com

The political sensitivity on the board of North Carolina’s community college system may be understandable – particularly at a time when Republicans don’t seem inclined to invest more money in education. The system’s board members decided not to move ahead with a study on whether to pursue four-year nursing degree programs at some community colleges.

The main reason for the board’s reluctance may be a concern that the University of North Carolina system, which offers such degrees, might resent the competition that an expansion by community colleges (where two-year degrees are offered) could prompt. Nonetheless, the General Assembly would be smart to expand nursing programs at both the community colleges and at UNC affiliates. The state needs more nurses with four-year degrees. Nurses with two-year degrees do a spectacular job, but nurses with the four-year degrees can perform a wider range of work and earn more money.

And allowing community colleges to offer four-year nursing degrees would be highly unlikely to spur those schools to four-year degrees in other areas. The community colleges, which have been a tremendous success since the late Terry Sanford, governor and U.S. senator, became their advocate-in-chief in the 1960s, know and stay true to their mission in all corners of North Carolina. Their ambition is public service, not empire-building.

In the case of nursing education, the community colleges are already set up for it. Expansion would require more money and more faculty members, but this would be targeting a specific need of the state, which would seem to be at the core of the community colleges’ mission.