Ohio University’s RN to BSN program has faced falling enrollment numbers in recent years as more Ohio nurses have already earned or plan to earn their bachelor’s degrees. 

The program, designed to help current registered nurses, or RNs, advance their nursing education while working, has experienced about a 45% decrease in enrollment across OU campuses from 2013 to 2020. 

This decline in enrollment was predicted to happen, though, as more licensed RNs are earning their bachelor’s degrees to meet higher hospital qualification requirements. In addition, more prospective nursing students are choosing to complete their Bachelor of Science degree in nursing, or BSN degree, to become an RN. 

“It is important to note that we remain committed to supporting this vital program and continue to invest resources that will allow us to expand it to new states and audiences across the country – while also continuing to offer one of the most affordable tuition rates in the nation,” Dr. Char Miller, associate professor and interim director of the school of nursing, said in a statement.

Today, it is possible for nursing students to become certified to practice in as little as 18 months, but not all nursing degrees are equal. RN to BSN programs seek to close the education gap among nurses and facilitate career growth in the nursing field. 

An RN is a licensure, not a degree. An individual can become an RN by completing a diploma, associate degree or bachelor’s degree in nursing. Earning a diploma or associate degree takes less time and costs less than obtaining a bachelor’s degree while allowing nurses to enter the workforce faster, leading some to opt for this path to becoming an RN. 

The main differences between RNs who earn an associate degree and those who earn a bachelor’s degree are pay level and career advancement opportunities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook, registered nurses who have a BSN will generally have better job prospects than those without one.

RN to BSN programs became increasingly popular as many hospitals across the nation moved to require nursing employees to obtain a BSN to maintain employment. This, in part, arose from a shortage of doctors resulting in hospital reliance on broader medical capabilities of nurses.

“A bachelor’s degree in Nursing has increasingly become the professional standard for advancement in the nursing field,” Miller said in the release. “This trend led to a dramatic increase in OHIO RN to BSN enrollment.”

According to the Ohio Board of Nursing’s 2019 RN workforce data summary, 12% of Ohio RN respondents are currently enrolled in a program to obtain a BSN, with 33% planning to obtain a BSN or higher nursing degree. 

The higher expectations of nursing qualifications have implications for current and prospective undergraduate students as well. 

Many undergraduate nursing students are now pursuing a bachelor’s degree as a gateway into the nursing field as opposed to an expedited diploma or associate degree program. This increases nursing students’ hireability as the national push for more BSN-earning nurses continues. 

“When I started college, I wasn't really educated on the whole different area or ways that you can go for this program, and so I only knew the BSN route. And I'm glad I didn't know because most hospitals in Ohio are requiring all their nurses who just have an associate's to go back to school to get their BSN,” Taryn Burkley, a senior studying nursing, said.