Associate Degree in Nursing Programs and AACN's Support for Articulation

See also AACN's 2019 Position Statement on Academic Progression in Nursing.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) is committed to improving the quality of our nation's health care by preparing a well-educated nursing workforce. Though AACN represents colleges and universities with baccalaureate, master's, and doctoral programs in nursing, we recognize that entry-level nurses are also educated at the associate degree level. Much confusion persists over AACN's support for higher education and its impact on the profession. In the interest of clarity, it should be noted that:

AACN will not engage in efforts to restrict entry into practice. AACN does not seek to deny entry of associate degree graduates into nursing and will not engage in activities related to closing Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) programs. We believe that accredited ADN programs offered by community colleges and four-year institutions play an important role in meeting the nation's healthcare needs.

AACN upholds the need for licensure of ADN graduates. AACN does not advocate for preventing graduates with an associate degree in nursing from acquiring RN licensure. Based on survey data, a sizeable majority of AACN members indicated support for RN licensure at the ADN level within the context of different scopes of practice for nurses based on level of education.

AACN does not seek to limit the role of the associate degree-prepared nurse in the practice setting. The association does seek to define distinct scopes of practice congruent with educational preparation. AACN believes that education - the type and the amount - has an impact on the skills and competencies of a nursing clinician. See AACN’s fact sheet on the Impact of Education on Nursing Practice.

AACN recognizes the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) as the minimum educational requirement for professional-level nursing practice. AACN's support for the BSN does not mean that we seek to bar ADN graduates from practicing nursing to the full extent of their skills and abilities. AACN maintains this position while recognizing the role ADN-prepared nurses play in the delivery of health care. See AACN's Position Statement on The Baccalaureate Degree in Nursing as Minimal Preparation for Professional Practice.

AACN supports articulation from associate degree programs to baccalaureate and higher degree programs. AACN has historically supported a career ladder based on different points along the educational continuum. The association is on record as supporting articulation models that move ADN graduates into higher degree programs. AACN joins with our colleagues at the American Association of Community Colleges and the Organization for Associate Degree Nurses (OADN) in encouraging ADN graduates to further their education. 

Data indicate widespread support for articulation programs in nursing from the nation's four-year colleges and universities. The overwhelming majority of AACN members offer RN-to-BSN programs for graduates of ADN programs wishing to complete a baccalaureate degree. As of fall 2023:

  • Most AACN member schools offer RN-to-BSN programs (706) and entry-level BSN programs (858).
  • 88,960 students are enrolled in RN-to-BSN programs which accounts for 25.8% of all baccalaureate students.
  • 52,803 students graduated from RN-to-BSN programs between August 2022 and July 2023 which translates into 36.5% of all baccalaureate graduates during that time period.
  • 179 schools offer RN-to-Master's programs for nurses looking to advance their education to the graduate level.

These data clearly indicate broad support from AACN members for articulation models that build on education provided in ADN programs.

AACN has a long history of supporting RN-to-Baccalaureate education. From 1986-1988, AACN conducted a study funded by the Division of Nursing, HRSA. The purpose of the study was to provide national data about RN-to-Baccalaureate education both from the institutional and student perspectives. Slightly more than 1,000 RN-to-BSN senior students were randomly selected to complete survey questionnaires; the response rate was 68% (742). Of these students, 54% graduated from ADN programs. The leading factors that influenced RN students' decision to obtain a BSN were:

  • Greater opportunity for career and educational mobility with a BSN (87.3%)
  • Desire to have a bachelor's degree (84.6%)
  • More opportunities for personal and professional development (76.7%)
  • Desire to pursue an advanced/graduate education (56.6%)
  • Convenient location of BSN program (47.0%)
  • Status of having a BSN (44.1%)

Expectation of high salary with a BSN degree accounted for only 28.6% percent of respondents.

The accreditation scope of the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), an autonomous arm of the AACN, does not impede articulation from ADN to BSN programs. Acceptance of credits from one institution to another is not fundamentally an accreditation matter, but rather an institutional decision, often influenced by state laws and regulations. Neither CCNE's existence nor the scope of its accrediting activities threaten or inhibit articulation or transfer of credits between schools. Acceptance of credits is the prerogative of institutions and not something that CCNE controls or seeks to influence. There is nothing in CCNE's accreditation criteria that discourages or impedes articulation from ADN programs to baccalaureate and graduate degree programs.

CCNE does not seek to devalue associate degree programs by excluding them from its accreditation activities. CCNE's mission is to ensure quality and integrity in baccalaureate and higher degree programs in the interest of improving the public's health. CCNE is recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education for this purpose. Therefore, making accreditation assessments about degrees offered at any other level would be inappropriate. Associate degree programs are free to pursue accreditation through the Accrediting Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission for Nursing Education Accreditation (CNEA), though almost a third of ADN programs have not pursued accreditation from either entity.

CCNE's scope of recognition has had no negative impact on diversity in the nursing profession. Nursing has traditionally attracted a more diverse student population than the other health professions. Baccalaureate programs have seen a jump in minority representation from 16.6% of the student population in 1990 to 45.7% in 2023. AACN will continue its work to increase the number of underrepresented minority nurses with baccalaureate and higher degrees, a goal shared by the National Black Nurses Association, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, and other groups.

AACN actively pursues opportunities to collaborate with kindred organizations with an eye toward improving care delivery and advancing the nursing profession. The association has worked closely with a number of organizations, including OADN, to encourage all nurses to take the next step in their education. See the Joint Statement on Academic Progression for Nursing Students and Graduates.

Updated: May 2024

Original Publication Date: April 2002


Robert Rosseter