- Published: Thursday, March 16, 2017 09:04 AM
A measure designed to fill a projected workforce shortage in rural Illinois while connecting students with good-paying careers in health care advanced out of a Senate committee this week.
Senate Bill 888, sponsored by Senator Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), would allow community colleges to award four-year nursing degrees in an effort to deepen the pool of qualified registered nurses available to be hired by Illinois health care employers.
According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, a bachelor’s degree today is considered the national entry-level educational standard for a registered nurse. A 2015 report by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation indicated that about a third of registered nurses age 55 and older planned to retire within five years, prompting concerns about a statewide nursing shortage.
Manar said the district he represents, which spans rural and underserved areas of downstate Illinois, stands to be especially hard hit by the nursing shortage.
Currently in Illinois, only universities may award bachelor’s degrees in nursing, but they have not been able to address the nursing shortage in some areas of the state.
Community colleges are well suited to help four-year universities ensure hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and medical offices throughout the state have a pool of well-qualified nursing applicants from which to hire, Manar said, adding that it’s also a good way to stem the tide of young people leaving Illinois in search of jobs.
“This approach may be outside of the box for Illinois, but nationally we would not be an outlier. Eleven other states do this type of thing with their community colleges,” Manar said.
“This discussion is about something much bigger than simply the traditional mission of Illinois’ universities and community colleges,” he said. “This is about offering excellent health care, planning for the future, adapting to changing critical workforce needs, offering affordable options for job training, putting people in good-paying jobs and keeping young people in the communities – and the state –where they grew up. These are all vitally important issues in Illinois, and this legislation touches on all of them.”
Senate Bill 888 grants 20 Illinois community colleges the ability to award bachelor of science degrees in nursing and sets standards for establishing nursing programs, including accreditation, documenting unmet workforce needs and more.
It also calls for a four-year review of the effort by the Illinois Community College Board, including a comprehensive statewide evaluation of newly created programs and a written report submitted to the State Board of Higher Education, the governor and both chambers of the General Assembly before July 1, 2022.
The legislation does not require community colleges to offer the degrees. State money may not be used to establish or maintain the program, according to the legislation.
The measure advanced out of the Senate’s Higher Education Committee on Tuesday.