More Nurses with Bachelor's Degrees Required to Meet Future Health Care Needs

May 3, 2018

In 2011, the Institute of Medicine (IOM, now part of the National Academy of Science, Engineering, and Medicine) released a report, “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health,” which contained eight recommendations regarding how the nursing workforce can best meet health-care needs in an era of health reform and population aging. One of the most prominent recommendations was that 80% of Registered Nurses (RNs) have a bachelor's degree or higher by 2020. However, progress toward this recommendation has been slow, and it is now widely recognized that the IOM's target will take longer than it recommended. This paper presents a model, which projects that 66%, instead of the 80% recommendation, of RNs will have a bachelor’s degree or higher by 2025. 

Key Highlights

  • In 2016, 54.4% of RNs had a bachelor's in nursing or graduate degree.
  • Based on current patterns, approximately 66% of RNs are projected to have bachelors or graduate degrees by 2025.
  • Although the IOM target of 80% of RNs having bachelor’s or graduate degrees by 2020 will not be met, progress has been made. The number of RNs graduating from RN-to-BSN programs has more than tripled, and entry-level students are shifting toward BSN and entry-level master's programs. Employers are increasingly rewarding RNs for completing additional education. 
  • To reach the 80% goal by 2025, changes in the mix of entry-level education and/or an increase in the number of RN-to-bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) graduates will be required.
  • Employers can support tuition costs and offer rewards to RNs who complete baccalaureate degree, as many do now.
  • Programs that support entry-level bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) education should be expanded, including collaborative agreements between community colleges and universities and community colleges offering bachelor's degrees in nursing.

Full publication.