The quest for 80%

Susan Hassmiller, RN

Susan Hassmiller, RNhassmillerAmong the core recommendations in the 2010 report “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health” (, by the Institute of Medicine ( and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (, was for at least 80% of nurses to have BSNs by 2020. 

“A more educated nursing workforce would be better equipped to meet the demands of an evolving healthcare system, and this need could be met by increasing the percentage of nurses with a BSN,” according to a Future of Nursing report brief. Nurses who have BSNs also are more likely to pursue MSNs or doctorates, according to the report, which would help supply much-needed primary care providers, nurse researchers and nurse faculty.

As of 2012, about 50% of nurses held degrees at the baccalaureate level or higher, according to a fact sheet from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Efforts to meet the 80% benchmark are ongoing.

The IOM noted a variety of programs and educational models can abet the process, including traditional RN-to-BSN programs, traditional four-year BSN programs at universities and some community colleges, “educational collaboratives that allow for automatic and seamless transitions from an AD to a BSN,” new providers of nursing education such as proprietary or for-profit schools; simulation and distance learning through online courses; and academic-service partnerships.

From 2011 to 2012, nursing schools reported a 3.5% increase in enrollment in baccalaureate programs, according to the AACN. Enrollment in RN-to-BSN programs increased by 22.2%.

The Future of Nursing Campaign for Action (, a national initiative of AARP (, the AARP Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, has strived to mobilize diverse stakeholders in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., to address the nation’s pressing healthcare challenges by using nurses more effectively and preparing nursing for the future.

“As I travel the country, I hear time and again that universities are working with community colleges now more than ever before to make it easier for students to transition to their next degree,” said Susan Hassmiller, RN, PhD, FAAN, senior adviser for nursing at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “The Campaign is providing the infrastructure and mentoring to help states with this work.”
Hassmiller said one of the most important policies in reaching the 80% benchmark is for hospital CNOs to specify that all new ADN hires must get their BSN within five years of their start date. 

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s effort intensified in 2012 with the selection of nine states to receive two-year, $300,000 grants through the Academic Progression in Nursing program. The objective of APIN is to advance state and regional strategies aimed at creating a more highly educated, diverse nursing workforce. 

The program is run by the American Organization of Nurse Executives ( on behalf of the Tri-Council for Nursing, which consists of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (, the National League for Nursing (, American Nurses Association ( and AONE. The $4.3 million Phase 1 initiative runs through 2014. RWJF will support an additional two years of work at the close of Phase 1 to facilitate continued progress by states that have met or exceeded their benchmarks.

The states chosen for the grants were California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Montana, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Texas and Washington. Each works with academic institutions and employers on implementing sophisticated strategies to help nurses get higher degrees. In particular, the states seek to encourage strong partnerships between community colleges and universities to make transitioning to higher degrees easier for nurses.

“The nation needs a well-educated nursing workforce to ensure an adequate supply of public health and primary care providers, improve care for patients living with chronic illness and in other ways meet the needs of our aging and increasingly diverse population,” Pamela Thompson, RN, MS, CENP, FAAN, national programs director for APIN, CEO of AONE and senior vice president of nursing for the American Hospital Association, said in a news release.

Everybody involved in the effort understands the challenges they face. One hindrance to meeting the 80% goal is “the barriers incurred by the students themselves, which include cost and family and life commitments,” Hassmiller said.

For the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's infographic on RNs' educational pathways, visit:


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