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Associate Degree in Nursing Programs and AACN's Support for Articulation

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The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) is committed to improving the quality of our nation's health care by preparing a well-educated nursing workforce. Though AACN represents colleges and universities with baccalaureate, master's, and doctoral programs in nursing, we recognize that entry-level nurses are also educated at the associate degree level. Much confusion persists over AACN's support for higher education and its impact on the profession. In the interest of clarity, it should be noted that:

AACN will not engage in efforts to restrict entry into practice. AACN does not seek to deny entry of associate degree graduates into nursing and will not engage in activities related to closing Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) programs. We believe that ADN programs offered by community colleges and four-year institutions play an important role in meeting the nation's health care needs.

AACN upholds the need for licensure of ADN graduates. AACN does not advocate for preventing graduates with an associate's degree in nursing from acquiring RN licensure. In a recent survey, a sizeable majority of AACN members indicated support for RN licensure at the ADN level within the context of different scopes of practice for nurses based on level of education.

AACN does not seek to limit the role of the associate degree-prepared nurse in the practice setting. The association does seek to define distinct scopes of practice congruent with educational preparation. AACN believes that education - the type and the amount - has an impact on the skills and competencies of a nursing clinician.

AACN recognizes the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) as the minimum educational requirement for what the organization holds to be professional-level nursing practice. AACN's support for the BSN does not mean that we seek to bar ADN graduates from practicing nursing to the full extent of their skills and abilities. AACN maintains this position while recognizing the role ADN-prepared nurses play in the delivery of health care.

AACN supports articulation from associate degree programs to baccalaureate and higher degree programs. AACN has historically supported a career ladder based on different points along the educational continuum. The association is on record as supporting articulation models that move ADN graduates into higher degree programs. AACN joins with our colleagues at the American Association of Community Colleges and the National Organization for Associate Degree Nurses (N-OADN) in encouraging ADN graduates to further their education. Click here to learn about the CampusRN/AACN Scholarship Fund. Special consideration is given to students completing an RN to baccalaureate nursing program (BSN).

Data indicate widespread support for articulation programs in nursing from the nation's four-year colleges and universities. The overwhelming majority of AACN members (87.5%) offer RN-to-BSN programs for graduates of ADN programs wishing to complete a baccalaureate degree. As of fall 2001:

  • More nursing schools offer RN-to-BSN programs (610) than entry-level BSN programs (569).

  • 28,599 students are enrolled in RN-to-BSN programs which accounts for 27% of all baccalaureate students.

  • 9,950 students graduated from RN-to-BSN programs between August 2000 and July 2001 which translates into 31% of all baccalaureate graduates during that time period.

  • 127 schools offer RN-to-Master's programs; 97.6% are AACN members.

These data clearly indicate broad support from AACN members for articulation models that build on education provided in ADN programs.

AACN has a long history of supporting RN-to-Baccalaureate education. From 1986-1988, AACN conducted a study funded by the Division of Nursing, HRSA. The purpose of the study was to provide national data about RN-to-Baccalaureate education both from the institutional and student perspectives. Slightly more than 1,000 RN-to-BSN senior students were randomly selected to complete survey questionnaires; the response rate was 68% (742). Of these students, 54% graduated from ADN programs.

The leading factors that influenced RN students' decision to obtain a BSN were:

  • Greater opportunity for career and educational mobility with a BSN (87.3%)
  • Desire to have a bachelor's degree (84.6%)
  • More opportunities for personal and professional development (76.7%)
  • Desire to pursue an advanced/graduate education (56.6%)
  • Convenient location of BSN program (47.0%)
  • Status of having a BSN (44.1%)

Expectation of high salary with a BSN degree accounted for only 28.6% percent of respondents.

The accreditation work of the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), an autonomous arm of the AACN, does not impede articulation from ADN to BSN programs. Acceptance of credits from one institution to another is not fundamentally an accreditation matter, but rather an institutional decision, often influenced by state laws and regulations. Neither CCNE's existence nor the scope of its accrediting activities threaten or inhibit articulation or transfer of credits between schools. Acceptance of credits is the prerogative of institutions and not something that CCNE controls or seeks to influence. There is nothing in CCNE's accreditation criteria that discourages or impedes articulation from ADN programs to baccalaureate and graduate degree programs.

Further, AACN is on record as encouraging articulation and issued a position statement in 1993 urging flexible admission criteria and collaborative programs for articulation and broader use of existing statewide and regional articulation models. It should also be noted that most RN-to-BSN programs will accept graduates from unaccredited ADN programs.

CCNE does not seek to devalue associate degree programs by excluding them from its accreditation activities. CCNE's mission is to ensure quality and integrity in baccalaureate and higher degree programs in the interest of public health. It is recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education for this purpose. Therefore, making accreditation assessments about degrees offered at any other level would be inappropriate. Associate degree programs are free to pursue accreditation through the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission, though almost a third of ADN programs have not pursued accreditation from this entity.

CCNE's scope of recognition has had no negative impact on diversity in the nursing profession. Nursing has traditionally attracted a more diverse student population than the other health professions. Baccalaureate programs have seen a jump in minority representation from 16.6 percent of the student population in 1990 to 21.5 percent in 2001. According to the Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, the percentage of graduating nursing students from minority backgrounds from both types of programs is essentially even: 20 percent of baccalaureate graduates represented minority groups as compared with 21.5 percent of ADN graduates. AACN will continue its work to increase the number of minority nurses with baccalaureate and higher degrees, a goal shared by the National Black Nurses Association, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, and other groups.

AACN actively pursues opportunities to collaborate with kindred organizations with an eye toward improving care delivery and advancing the nursing profession. The association has worked closely with a number of organizations, including N-OADN, to develop a model for differentiated nursing practice that includes meaningful roles for nurses from all educational backgrounds. This work continues through the Call to the Profession, a coalition of 19 leading nursing organizations working together to address the nursing shortage and chart nursing's future agenda.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing is the national voice for university and four-year-college education programs in nursing. Representing more than 570 member schools of nursing nationwide, AACN's educational, research, governmental advocacy, data collection, publications, and other programs work to establish quality standards for bachelor's- and graduate-degree nursing education, assist deans and directors to implement those standards, influence the nursing profession to improve health care, and promote public support of baccalaureate and graduate nursing education, research, and practice.

Last updated: April 15, 2002

CONTACT: Robert Rosseter
rrosseter@aacn.nche.edu
(202) 463-6930, x231