01/29/2015 01:45 EST | Updated 03/31/2015 05:59 EDT

Why Ontario Needs Stand-Alone Nursing Degrees

Blend Images - Terry Vine via Getty Images

As our society ages, it's important to have a health-care workforce that mirrors the diversity of the general population. A significant step Ontario can take to create a more diverse nursing workforce would be to allow colleges to offer stand-alone nursing degrees.

Currently, any college student who wants to obtain a nursing degree must participate in a program that is jointly offered with a university. The requirement to go to both college and university is leading to a workforce that is less diverse than it could be.

And it's not necessary. Colleges -- which attract a broad range of students -- are ready to offer nursing degree programs on their own.

Ontario's colleges have issued a report, Opening Doors to Nursing Degrees: Time for Action, which urges the provincial government to allow interested colleges to offer their own stand-alone nursing degree programs. There are a number of compelling reasons why the province should do this.

First, the post-secondary landscape has changed dramatically.

Fifteen years ago, when the province began changing the requirements for nursing credentials, colleges weren't offering degree programs.

However, Ontario colleges are now granting four-year degrees in a variety of disciplines such as health information science, child and youth care, industrial design, software design and much more.

Independent consultants for the provincial government have confirmed college four-year degree programs have been highly successful.

Furthermore, there will be cost savings for many students who are able to complete their nursing degree at one institution, possibly in their own community, instead of transferring to a university program after spending two years at college.

Colleges excel at attracting students from all walks of life. One-third of the colleges' total student population report that they come from socio-culturally diverse backgrounds. More than half of the applications to colleges come from households with a total income of less than $60,000.

A consultants' report that was done for the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities said some colleges are ready or near-ready to offer stand-alone nursing degree programs.

In fact, a number of colleges are already delivering more than 90 per cent of the curriculum in the nursing degree programs jointly offered with universities, and one college is providing 100 per cent of the curriculum.

The work has been done to guarantee that nursing degree programs at colleges will meet the national and provincial quality standards for such baccalaureate programs. Colleges have developed a multi-year implementation plan based on principles that will protect the supply of new nurses and requires no new government funding.

Looking down the road, students will have access to a broader range of opportunities to enter the nursing profession, including access to the many excellent programs that some colleges and universities wish to continue offering in collaboration. Students from all walks of life will have access to exceptional education and training to become the next generation of patient-focused nurses.

Ontario can fill in a gap in its health-care education by endorsing the recommendation to allow colleges to offer four-year baccalaureate degrees in nursing.