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Community College of Baltimore County program provides a faster track into nursing

After more than 20 years tending bar, Lisa Pendleton wants to change gears and become a nurse.

Pendleton, a 44-year-old from Reisterstown, was one of about 25 prospective applicants who last week checked out a program offered in Catonsville by the Community College of Baltimore County that speeds up the process of getting a bachelor's in nursing.

The nearly five-year-old program allows students to take community college and university classes at the same time, trimming about a year off the education regimen and allowing them to pay community college rates for much of their tuition.

When students earn an associate in science degree in nursing, typically after two years, they usually have one or two terms of part-time university coursework remaining to earn a Bachelor of Science degree, said Karen Wons, coordinator of the Associate to Bachelor's (ATB) option program at CCBC.

Pendleton said she's thought about being a nurse ever since her son was born 15 years ago. She thought highly of the care she and her son received and wanted to be able to provide that to others.

She has been attending classes at CCBC for three years and hopes to be able to take advantage of the community college's relationship with Stevenson University to earn a degree in the high-demand field.

"I like nursing," said Pendleton, who attended last week's open house on the program. "I like the fact we can do it in a shorter time."

The ATB program started as a pilot in 2012 with Towson University, one of a dozen colleges in the state offering nursing degrees.

The programs have become increasingly important, and competition for entrance has intensified, as demand for nurses with bachelor's degrees are on the rise. According to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, while there may be a national excess of registered nurses and licensed practical nurses by 2025, there are statewide shortages forecasted, including in Maryland.

According to the model, demand for registered nurses in Maryland will exceed supply by 12,100 by 2025, while demand for licensed practical nurses will exceed supply by 7,800 by 2025.

In 2015, the Community College of Baltimore County ATB program added three additional partner schools — Stevenson University, Notre Dame of Maryland and Frostburg State University.

The schools have room for between 20 and 60 students. Some offer discounted tuition for ATB students.

To get into the ATB option program, students must first be in the CCBC nursing program.

The traditional model for nursing education is changing, Wons said, as more hospitals seek nurses with bachelor's degrees, she said.

"The bachelor's is becoming the future credential most nurses will need to acquire," she said.

In 2010, the National Academy of Medicine, a nonprofit that is part of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommended that 80 percent of nurses have bachelor's degrees by 2020.

In Maryland last year, the state legislature formed a task force to study ways to expand training options.

In the past, nurses would start working once they earned an associate's degree and not all of them would pursue a more advanced degree. Some who did might have taken a long time to do so, limiting career mobility or earning power, Wons said.

The additional nursing coursework at the baccalaureate level — dealing with leadership and management, research, community health and population health — is not covered in an associate's degree program, Wons said.

Wons said 60 to 70 students are admitted to day programs each semester at Catonsville and Essex campuses. In the fall, additional slots are added for a weekend and evening program based in Essex and a hybrid program in Catonsville that combines face-to-face and online coursework, Wons said.

In Maryland, nurses with an associate's degree in nursing in 2013 earned an average annual salary of $59,600, while those with a bachelor's degree in nursing earn $83,800 a year and $40.30 per hour, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A bachelor's degree is not needed to take the licensure exam required to be a registered nurse. The requirement is proof of graduation from an approved state Board of Nursing program, Wons said.

Deborah Naccarini, associate dean for the ATB program at Notre Dame University of Maryland, said it is becoming increasingly necessary for nurses to have a higher level of education.

"The more accessible it is, the higher the number of nurses will have the preparation," she said. "All the evidence will show that baccalaureate nurses will improve patient outcomes because of their higher level of education."

At Frostburg State, demand has risen for classes offered to ATB program students, according to Dan Saunders, a program coordinator at the university.

Students are becoming aware that employers are looking for candidates with a bachelor's degree for entry level positions, he said. The program has appeal to students because of the cost savings and the ability to earn a degree in a shorter amount of time, he said.

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