Credit: Riverside City College / RCC.edu

Despite the high demand for more nurses, students at some California community colleges are finding it difficult to get accepted into nursing programs.

It’s a problem that leaders of the student senate of the California Community Colleges want to confront to eliminate a controversial lottery system that has prevented some students from becoming nurses.

Of the nearly 80 nursing programs offered in the 115 campus community colleges, some use a lottery system to admit applicants. Some students have complained of yearslong waitlists, preventing them from pursuing their major.

“We’re going to have a lot of nurses quit because of Covid, and we’re not going to be able to replace them fast enough,” said Katelyn Bourne, a former member of the student senate and transfer student at Humboldt State. “Why not make a system across the board to get students into nursing? Make it first come, first served.”

In a first-come, first-served system, students would be enrolled as they are accepted into the nursing program.

It’s unclear just how many colleges use a lottery program. A 2019 report on the 77 nursing programs in the community college system found that 47 campuses used a multi-criteria screening process that evaluated for any degrees or certificates they already hold, GPA, volunteer work, interviews, recommendations and life experiences such as being a first-generation student or coming from a low-income background.

The other 30 used first come, first served, a modified random selection, prerequisite courses or random lottery.

It’s up to each campus with a nursing program to decide how they want to admit students, but in a written response from the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, multi-criteria screening appears to be the most effective in decreasing the number of students who leave a program before completion compared with the other methods.

“The colleges using a multi-criteria (process) monitor for adverse impact on diversity, and so far the data shows no adverse impact,” said Rafael Chavez, a spokesman for the chancellor’s office.

But some colleges don’t have the staffing or resources to offer a multi-criteria screening process.

“We use a lottery process because we don’t have the manpower to go through 150 applications and more,” said Roberta Farrar, the director of nursing at Humboldt County’s College of the Redwoods. “We have one person: me.”

College of the Redwoods enrolls about 40 students annually into the first year of the program. That means students may spend about a year or two on the program’s waiting list. And the college lacks the funding to open up many more spots. The program uses a computerized lottery to grant admission to the program.

Limited finances, few clinical sites and faculty fatigue have limited the number of students who can participate in nursing despite the demand to enter these programs and the massive shortage California faces for more nurses, Farrar said.

A new report from the University of California San Francisco Health Workforce Research Center on Long-Term Care estimates a shortage of 40,567 full-time registered nurses that is projected to persist until 2026. The report details that many older nurses have left the field and a large number plan on retiring or quitting within the next two years.

The report also found that California is producing fewer nurses.

Community colleges and the state’s universities have had to decrease enrollments, skip new classes of students and reduce class sizes during the pandemic, in part because of the inability to place students in clinical rotations where they receive hands-on training.

“These programs didn’t have the resources to pivot online or to distance within classrooms as private schools can,” said Joanne Spetz, director of UCSF’s Institute for Health Policy Studies and co-author of the report. “Policymakers need to support public nursing education programs to ensure an ongoing pipeline of nurses into the health care system.”

Farrar said a first-come, first-served system wouldn’t work either because the college receives applications from all across the state. Because of the limited number of seats at many campuses, College of the Redwoods receives applications from students who have no intention of moving to Humboldt County or staying in the community to help address the nursing shortage in rural Northern California.

“When I get someone from San Diego with no intent of staying in Humboldt County, that doesn’t help us,” she said.

The lottery system helps students move off the waitlist faster, Farrar said. Accepted students get two deferrals before they are forced to reapply.

“We get applications from out of state, from within the state; people send me (nursing exam) score results and haven’t even applied,” she said. “They’re applying to as many schools as possible to see who will take them first.”

Bourne, the student helping to write a bill that would end the lottery process at nursing schools, said the student senate doesn’t just want to open the door for more applicants.

“We also want a separate bill to increase funding for nursing programs at community colleges,” she said. That funding would go toward larger class sizes, more incentives to hire nursing instructors and perhaps a way to pay hospitals for more clinical training opportunities.

The chancellor’s office agrees that more funding and resources from the Legislature would help.

Chavez said that help could come by offering hospitals incentives to provide clinical rotations to public community colleges and universities, offering a higher salary to registered nurses as a recruitment tool, and changing regulations that allow for more clinical training time in areas of the hospital that are not delivering direct patient care.

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  1. Cindy Watkins 3 days ago3 days ago

    If you don't want to hang around waiting for a nursing program in California then go to another state. New Mexico comes to mind. That's what a friend of mine did. She's now a nurse. And don't go to LA and enroll in a for-profit nursing program. Also you can take a lot of classes at the community college before you go to nursing school and most of your credits will transfer. Take all the … Read More

    If you don’t want to hang around waiting for a nursing program in California then go to another state. New Mexico comes to mind. That’s what a friend of mine did. She’s now a nurse. And don’t go to LA and enroll in a for-profit nursing program. Also you can take a lot of classes at the community college before you go to nursing school and most of your credits will transfer. Take all the biology, microbiology, algebra 2 and everything else to save money. Then transfer your credits. Make sure they will accept your credits before you enroll. Don’t get surprised that they will not accept some credits.

    Do you homework because it takes fortitude to get into nursing school. It’s a lot of organization and filling out forms. And it costs money to apply. Don’t give up, just keep working toward your goal. If you get a nursing license in say New Mexico, you can pass your test in NM and then you can transfer your license to California. Read fine print to be sure you do it correctly. Follow your dream, it’s worth it. Besides nursing is a calling so if nursing calls get some support and go for it! Best of luck to you!!

  2. Julie 1 week ago1 week ago

    What a bunch of BS. They're limiting the number of nurses? Who's behind that idea? Also, more excuses, "Limited finances, few clinical sites and faculty fatigue", sounds so similar to "we just don't have enough ER beds and the staff is so drained". Stop with the excuses and make a way! Read More

    What a bunch of BS. They’re limiting the number of nurses? Who’s behind that idea? Also, more excuses, “Limited finances, few clinical sites and faculty fatigue”, sounds so similar to “we just don’t have enough ER beds and the staff is so drained”. Stop with the excuses and make a way!

  3. Bob weir 1 week ago1 week ago

    I'm not surprised the group that publicly uses staff shortages as no more than a slogan to gain public support for more money, better benes, and less work has no opinion in this matter. Nursing unions if they actualy felt concerned should be all over properly funding nursing programs and making them as accessible as possible. Truth be told union fiercely supports making it difficult and expensive as possible to get into their club. Nurses … Read More

    I’m not surprised the group that publicly uses staff shortages as no more than a slogan to gain public support for more money, better benes, and less work has no opinion in this matter. Nursing unions if they actualy felt concerned should be all over properly funding nursing programs and making them as accessible as possible. Truth be told union fiercely supports making it difficult and expensive as possible to get into their club. Nurses themselves were instrumental along with teachers in requiring heavy education requirements to join. This eliminates much competition as well as gives them ammo for their constant quest for more money, better benes,and less work. Their most beloved and trusted ammo however is useing people’s health as their war chant. A chant used for their frequent strikes and threats of strike. but always in that chant is their real concern of more money, better benes, and/or less work.