Rutgers-Camden's nursing school has expanded its agreement with Mercer County Community College, allowing students to stay on the community college campus and receiving a nursing bachelor's degree.

Under the new program, students are accepted into Rutgers-Camden's nursing program when they enter the community college nursing program. After finishing the two-year associate's degree in nursing, they remain on campus for a final year, taught by Rutgers-Camden faculty, and receive a bachelor of science degree from Rutgers-Camden.

"Our new partnership opens doors and enhances accessibility for a new generation of health-care professionals," Jianping Wang, the president of Mercer County Community College, said in a statement. "enabling them to overcome obstacles otherwise created through cost, inconvenience, or a lack of opportunity."

In the past, many registered nurses graduated from community colleges before sitting for licensure exams. Increasingly, however, a bachelor's degree is being considered an entry-level nursing credential, limiting the options for many existing nurses and making traditional community college nursing programs less marketable. Facing those pressures, community colleges have looked to partner with four-year colleges and universities to create completion programs for their graduates.

Mercer County Community College already had a completion program with the Rutgers-Camden nursing school, allowing registered nurses to receive a bachelor's degree. The new agreement, signed Thursday, expands that to connect the associate's and bachelor's programs from start to finish. The community college earlier this week also signed a dual enrollment agreement with Thomas Edison State University, allowing students to complete their nursing bachelor's degrees through that school.

"In nursing, we are all about making the bachelor's degree the credential for entry to practice," said Joanne Robinson, the dean of the Rutgers School of Nursing-Camden. "We're all about improving practice and ratcheting up the qualifications so that people in the workplace can think critically, know how to be leaders, can make clinical decisions with some confidence, interpret data, that kind of thing. And that's what we're trying to teach at the bachelor's level."

The Rutgers-Camden nursing school has a similar program at Atlantic Cape Community College. Now that it has two satellite locations, Robinson said, the nursing school is more accessible across the region. Some students who attend community college, she noted, may not have easy access to Rutgers-Camden's campus.

"To have to come into Camden, to figure out where to park, to figure out where the classrooms are, to kind of integrate yourself into the larger campus, etc. etc, it's just a hassle if all you need is that one year," Robinson said.

She also noted that a majority of the school's graduates look to practice in South Jersey, so the expanded program can help meet that demand.

"Being taught by somebody who understands southern New Jersey, the population health issues, the clinical facilities where they're going, the preceptors," Robinson said, "all that stuff is important, and that's the advantage they get with us."