Nursing shortage grows — and state isn’t helping any

Nurses in the corridor of a busy hospital. (Photo: SpotMatik Ltd, via Shutterstock)

There’s a severe shortage of registered nurses in California, and it’s getting worse.

Experts predict the state could be short nearly 200,000 nurses by 2030, with rural areas among the most vulnerable to the deficit. Yet, despite this growing crisis, the state has imposed enrollment restrictions that are preventing many California nursing schools from enrolling and training additional qualified students.

These enrollment restrictions are particularly harmful to adult learners who hope to advance their healthcare careers, build a better life for their families, and serve their local communities. Many live in underserved, rural communities where the need for qualified nurses is most acute, including the Central Valley and Central Coast regions.

Community colleges and other public and non-profit universities that offer high-value nursing programs are also impacted by the state’s enrollment restrictions.

Western Governors University (WGU), which was established by 19 U.S. governors as a non-profit university, was invited to develop a nursing prelicensure program in California to serve stranded and underserved learners and to help reduce the state’s nursing shortage.

Today, nearly three-quarters of WGU’s students are adult learners who work full-time while putting themselves through school, and around 70 percent are underserved.

Lifting the enrollment restrictions would mean the opportunity for a better life for roughly 2,000 qualified prelicensure nursing candidates in California. Last year, WGU was only permitted to admit 2 percent of all qualified prelicensure nursing applicants, a total of just 40 students— a drop in the bucket.

WGU is just one of many nursing schools in California facing the state’s enrollment restrictions. Community colleges and other public and non-profit universities that offer high-value nursing programs are also impacted by the state’s enrollment restrictions. By its own estimates, the state Board of Registered Nursing (BRN) turns away more than 20,000 qualified applicants annually due to the de facto enrollment cap.

Proposed legislation by Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio (Assembly Bill 1364) would open enrollment and expand access to high-quality, accredited nursing schools for many of California’s aspiring nurses.

Specifically, it will help streamline the enrollment process by exempting duplicative state reviews of faculty and enrollment increases in cases where the nursing programs and clinical sites have already been approved by the BRN to operate.

The legislation will not impact the BRN’s full oversight of public safety, licensing and discipline, in keeping with its public protection mandate. There are also important safeguards in place to ensure that new student enrollments will not displace any existing nursing students completing their clinical rotations.All qualifying nursing programs will need to maintain a minimum pass rate of 80 percent on the licensing examination.

Assembly Bill 1364 is commonsense legislation that would open the door to professional and economic opportunities for more nursing students and unclog a pipeline of skilled nurses that our communities so desperately need.We strongly encourage state lawmakers to pass this bill and allow high-quality, high-value nursing education programs to expand in California.

Editor’s Note: Dr. Jan Jones-Schenk is dean and academic vice president of WGU’s College of Health Professions.


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