Is a Baccalaureate in Nursing Worth It? The Return to Education, 2000-2008


Joanne Spetz, Tim Bates

September 15, 2013

OBJECTIVE: A registered nurse (RN) license can be obtained by completing a baccalaureate degree (BSN), an associate degree (AD), or a diploma program. The aim of this article is to examine the return to baccalaureate education from the perspective of the nurse.

DATA SOURCES: National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses, 2000, 2004, and 2008.

STUDY DESIGN: The effect of education on RN wages is estimated using multivariate regression, both for initial education and for completing a second degree. The coefficients are used to calculate lifetime expected earnings. Multinomial logistic regression is used to examine the relationship between education and job title.

PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: Lifetime earnings for nurses whose initial education is the BSN are higher than those of AD nurses only if the AD program requires 3 years and the discount rate is 2 percent. For individuals who enter nursing with an AD, lifetime earnings are higher if they complete a BSN. The BSN is associated with higher likelihood of being an advanced practice registered nurse, having an academic title, and having a management title.

CONCLUSIONS: Because baccalaureate education confers benefits both for RNs and their patients, policies to encourage the pursuit of BSN degrees need to be supported.

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