Healthy opportunities at Colorado Mountain College

Stefanie Kilts
Special to the Daily
Special to the Daily
Photo by Suzie Romig |

EAGLE COUNTY — The Colorado Health Foundation has awarded Colorado Mountain College a two-year grant of $559,276 to seed the proposed new Bachelor of Science in nursing degree.

“We are thrilled, excited and grateful to have the opportunity to advance the educational opportunity for practicing RNs, CMC nursing students and graduates, and to improve the quality and access to health care in our communities,” said Betty Damask-Bembenek, Colorado Mountain College director of nursing education.

Since the mid-1990s, Colorado Mountain College has offered the Associate of Applied Science degree in nursing, which enables graduates to be eligible to take the National Council Licensing Exam to obtain a license as a registered nurse. A bachelor’s degree in nursing provides the education that can open up opportunities for greater career advancement and higher salary options.

After extensive surveys and data collection showed an unmet demand for bachelor’s degrees in the mountain communities served by Colorado Mountain College, in 2010 the college received authorization from the state legislature, Colorado Department of Higher Education and accrediting body the Higher Learning Commission to offer up to five bachelor’s degrees.

“A Bachelor’s of Science in nursing is one of the degrees we’ve been studying for some time,” said Dr. Brad Tyndall, senior vice president for academic affairs at the college. “There is strong demand in our communities, but we’re also studying how we can set up the financial resources to sustainably run a successful program. We’re extremely grateful for the support this grant provides.”

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Nursing degree among those being developed

As was the process for offering bachelor’s degrees in business administration and sustainability studies, a robust series of internal approvals will be required if the college is to offer a bachelor’s degree in nursing. If internal approvals are met, then the college will seek external approvals from the Colorado Department of Higher Education and the National League of Nursing Accreditation Commission.

Once the approval process has been completed, depending on the approval timeline, hiring of faculty and development of classes, Colorado Mountain College could potentially introduce the new degrees in the fall of 2014.

“The RN to BSN degree program would build upon the associate degree nursing knowledge base with a focus on safe, quality patient-centered care outcomes while integrating research and creating an emphasis on health promotion, prevention and population-based care,” Damask-Bembenek said.

The proposed degree would allow for 30 additional RN-BSN students to enroll per semester and up to 60 per year. Colorado Mountain College currently receives an average of 120 applications each year for the associate degree in nursing and has a maximum capacity for 72 students.

Critical nursing shortage spurred inquiry

The proposal for the Colorado Health Foundation grant was completed after the Colorado Mountain College Foundation and various college departments conducted research on state and national trends in the nursing industry. They also researched educational institutions offering advanced nursing degrees in Colorado.

Their research included multiple studies that point to a critical nursing shortage in Colorado. The Colorado Center for Nursing Excellence estimates Colorado’s nursing shortage of 11 percent could triple to 30 percent by 2020 if current trends continue.

The American Association of Colleges in Nursing lists several contributing factors to this shortage: the average age of the registered nurse is climbing, there is a shortage of nursing school faculty, the population is aging as baby boomers reach their 60s and older, and nursing school enrollment is not matching the projected demand.

In addition to the need to add more nurses to the workforce, Damask-Bembenek said the access to a bachelor’s degree in nursing is extremely important for future RNs. Not only are these nurses more desirable to employers, but studies point to higher levels of nursing education improving the health outcomes for patients and communities.

As addressed in the report “Colorado’s Nursing Faculty Shortage” from the Colorado Center for Nursing Excellence, one of the Institute of Medicine’s recommendations for the future of nursing is for 80 percent of nurses to hold a bachelor’s degree by the year 2020. This would require approximately 11,000 current RNs to return to school for an additional two years of full-time education.

“The words ‘thank you’ really seem so inadequate for what the Colorado Health Foundation is doing for our faculty, our students and our community,” said Matt Spencer, CEO of the Colorado Mountain College Foundation. “The entire CMC team is thrilled about this partnership as we bring the BSN program to our communities while assisting the Colorado Health Foundation in their vision.”

The Colorado Health Foundation works to make Colorado the healthiest state in the nation by increasing the number of Coloradans with health insurance, ensuring they have access to quality, coordinated care and encouraging healthy living. The foundation invests in the community through grants and initiatives to health-related nonprofits that focus on these goals, as well as operating medical education programs to increase the health care workforce. For more information, please visit

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