New agreement guarantees U.Va. admission to community college-educated RNs

Vicki Jenkins, RN to BSN `14
Vicki Jenkins, RN to BSN `14
Dan Addison, UVa

The University of Virginia School of Nursing has entered into a formal agreement with 21 of the Virginia Community College System’s member schools to guarantee admission to registered nurses (RNs) interested in U.Va.’s RN to BSN program.

The purpose of the agreement reflects national efforts to accelerate the growth of baccalaureate prepared nurses in the workforce to improve the quality of patient care. The hope, says Dorrie K. Fontaine, dean of the School of Nursing, is to incrementally increase the program’s enrollment by drawing from the highly qualified students that emerge from the Commonwealth’s community college system’s schools of nursing.

“This agreement fortifies our commitment to the Institute of Medicine’s 2010 mandate that 80 percent of nurses be baccalaureate trained by the year 2020,” added Fontaine. “It’s also a chance for us to expand the program to our own nurses at UVA Medical Center, who have provided early foundational support and enthusiasm for the degree by heading back to school themselves.”

The agreement also supports the goals of the Virginia Higher Education Opportunity Act, also known as the “Top Jobs Act.” Among the goals of the legislation are to provide enhanced community college transfer programs and increase degree production in high-need areas, such as healthcare-related professions.     

Nurses with BSN degrees enjoy a greater degree of professional mobility that often leads to higher salaries, and many opt to pursue graduate degrees to take their careers to the next step. More importantly, landmark reports from the Institute of Medicine (2010) and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (2009) illustrate the clear correlation between nursing education levels and safe, quality patient care. Indicators like infection rates, failure to rescue and mortality rates in hospitals are all lower with baccalaureate-prepared nurses.

U.Va.’s RN to BSN program offers a part time, 21-month program for full-time working nurses who already possess a wealth of practical professional experience. Classes are held on Grounds once a week, with a clinical practicum in the second year that allows students to apply what they have learned to a clinical setting.

“After I got my associate's degree, I thought, ‘I’m done,'" said Vicki Jenkins, RN to BSN `14, who earned her first degree at Germanna Community College. "But I couldn’t have known without experiencing it what happens when you come to a four-year college. You hear about politics, government affairs, topics that touch nursing from all angles; it makes you well-rounded.

“I couldn’t even begin to tell you how different I am than a year ago," added Jenkins. "This kind of learning is why you’d choose U.Va. I’ve been blown out of the water with the level of education I’ve gotten here. It’s why you work so hard to come to a school like this. I just had no idea what I didn’t know.”

The VCCS agreement, the third such agreement in place at U.Va., requires RNs to have completed an associate’s degree within the VCCS system, have at least 49 transferable credits (39 or more of which must be from schools in the VCCS system) and to have passed the NCLEX-RN exam during the last five years to be guaranteed admission to the School. The agreement also requires RNs to have a cumulative GPA of 3.4 in their VCCS coursework as well as a B grade or better in English 111, English 112, and MTH 157/240/241. In order to be guaranteed admission, these RNs must also possess an unencumbered license to practice in Virginia or a multistate license, and must have completed courses across the academic spectrum, including in health assessment, pharmacology, life span development, humanities and the social sciences, among other areas.

A unique advantage to U.Va.’s RN to BSN program is that its graduates may earn up to 10 graduate credits upon completion of the degree, a move, says Fontaine, meant to whet their appetite for further study in an era with an acute shortage of nursing academics.

“It is undeniable that nurses increasingly occupy a central role in safe, compassionate, quality patient care,” said nursing professor Kathy Haugh, coordinator of the RN to BSN program. “Offering a route for RNs with associates degrees to further their education – by expanding one’s worldview of nursing and opening up new ways of thinking in a variety of practice settings – will only make that care stronger.”

“This agreement demonstrates the University’s commitment to the Top Jobs Act, formalizes a route for RNs’ higher education, and offers a plan to encourage those who had considered going back to school to come to U.Va.,” said President Teresa Sullivan. “We’re hoping to attract those who might have thought such a degree – or admission to
U.Va. -- was out of their reach. It is also an acknowledgement that the Commonwealth’s community colleges are a rich resource for all of us, as well as a great place to start earning a U.Va. degree.”

“This gives Virginia students and their families one more tool for planning a tremendous higher education program,” said Glenn DuBois, chancellor of the Virginia Community College System. “Two years at community college, which are accessible and convenient across the Commonwealth, followed by guaranteed admission into the University of Virginia is an outstanding combination. Virginia’s community colleges are the on-ramp to the opportunity for a terrific career.”