Nursing Programs: Community College or University

The growing field of nursing is powered not only by the need for increasing medical support for the aging baby boomer population, but also by the opportunity to truly make a difference in patients’ lives. Nursing programs can be found in virtually every state, as well as online courses that offer LPN training and advancement opportunities.

For those interested in a career in nursing, the choices may be daunting at first. How does an aspiring nurse decide between the various curricula? Is there a difference between nursing programs offered at community colleges or universities?

LPN Nursing Programs

Nursing Education: Career and Certification Goals   

When choosing between a college or a university for nurse training, many different factors come into play, including tuition costs, location, and qualifications of the instructors. Above all, keep your long-term career goals in mind, and consider the future advancement opportunities afforded by each type of education.

Community colleges may offer specialized nursing programs for students who wish to become RNs (registered nurses) or LPNs (licensed practical nurses). These programs are more economical, and may also be shorter than comparable university education for the same jobs. It's possible to study at a community college in an RN training program for three years, at less than half the cost of a university's BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) degree – an alternate qualification for RNs.

Someone with a BSN will make an equivalent income working the same job as an RN – but the BSN may enable them to move up into a management position at a higher salary. If you're interested in pursuing further education at some later point in time, the BSN will be more useful there as well. RNs who lack the BSN degree may be required to make up courses or find a RN to BSN bridge program before pursuing a Master's in Nursing or other specialized training.

Nursing Programs at Colleges vs. Universities 

If you're thinking more in the short term, on the other hand, there are substantial advantages to studying at an accredited community college:

  • A community college offers much lower tuition than a university.
  • It's possible to complete a college nursing program to become an LPN in one to two years, or an RN program in two to four years – substantially less than a four-year BSN degree.
  • Some community college programs may offer more practical or hands-on teaching, while universities are more knowledge-based – though this will depend on the individual program.
  • The quality of education can be equal. This is not to say that all community colleges offer education in keeping with a university, but those that are accredited by either the National League for Nursing Accreditation Commission or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing and Education are reputable. It's also worth looking into a school's hiring rates and NCLEX examination pass rates, which will vary across both universities and colleges.

For students interested in completing a BSN but who can't afford the cost of a four-year university degree, it's often possible to complete prerequisite courses at a college for a fraction of the cost, and then transfer into the third or fourth year of a nursing program at a university. If this is of interest, it's worth the time to inquire and plan all the steps in advance, from approving all your course equivalents to timing applications and payments.

The choice between community college and university nursing programs is a personal decision that should be based on your career goals, as well as your financial situation and the type of environment in which you work best.


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