A bill that will let Pikes Peak and other community colleges offer a four-year bachelor's degree in nursing won final approval Tuesday in the Statehouse. The measure now heads to Gov. John Hickenlooper for his signature.
House Bill 1086 would let community colleges offer the bachelor's degree in addition to the two-year associate's degree they already offer. The bill grew out of discussions about Pikes Peak Community College and UCHealth Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs, which wants its nurses to have the bachelor's degree.
But existing four-year degree programs don't have enough slots, aren't available in some areas of Colorado and are unaffordable for some students, officials said.
"We're pretty overjoyed," said Warren Epstein, PPCC spokesman. "This is a huge thing, not just for PPCC but for the whole state to have this opportunity for community colleges to offer the BSN (bachelor of science in nursing).
"It's been a long road to get there, but this is a great opportunity for students. It's going to make it so much more affordable to get a four-year degree in nursing, which is essential," Epstein said. "The demand is such that we're really just going to put a dent in the need."
Last year, 21,000 job listings called for nurses with the bachelor's degree, and 80 percent of them were for entry-level positions, said Nancy McCallin, president of the Colorado Community College System.
"If there isn't a workforce shortage here, I don't know what is," she told Colorado Politics last month.
Under the bill, students already enrolled in the two-year associate programs could segue into the four-year program. So could graduates of the two-year associate program. Both programs allow graduates to be certified as registered nurses. The four-year degree provides management training and is also required for those interested in nursing education or other graduate programs, such as nurse practitioner.
The bill drew objections from some four-year institutions, including the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and at Denver as well as Colorado Mesa University in Grand Juncion.
The Colorado Commission on Higher Education also had problems with the bill, but the CCHE was stripped of its authority over degree programs last year.
In the Senate, the CCHE tried to persuade lawmakers to amend the bill to give them authority over the bachelor's in nursing program. That failed, but to appease the CCHE and the Hickenlooper administration, bill sponsors agreed to amendments that declare a change in the role and mission for the community colleges to allow for the program.
The bill also dictates that the board of the community college system "solicit the commission's input" on the program.
Regis University was concerned that the bill "does not consider cost impacts to students and the state," said Mark Cavanaugh, executive director of the Independent Higher Education of Colorado, a nonprofit that worked on Regis' behalf.
Regis preferred that the CCHE have approval authority, he said in an email.
McCallin said it will take at least a year to prepare the program for students, and it might not be offered at all community colleges.
Tuesday's action required the House to agree to Senate amendments and to re-pass the bill, which it did unanimously. Sen. Irene Aguilar, a Denver Democrat who co-sponsored the bill, told Colorado Politics she expects the governor to sign it.