CBS MarketWatch: Nursing a good field for "lower-skilled workers" with "no college"
October 27, 2005 -- Today CBS MarketWatch posted a piece by Andrea Coombes explaining that some "good fields," including nursing, do not require a bachelor's degree. Although most of the piece is fair enough as far as nursing goes--it stresses that nursing training is competitive and demanding--the original headline suggests that the listed fields require "no college" and are for "lower-skilled workers." This language does not provide an accurate picture of nursing. Although we acknowledge the difficulty of describing a field whose members may have some three to ten years of college-level education, we urge Ms. Coombes and CBS MarketWatch to be more careful in the future.
The piece notes that, although good jobs increasingly require a bachelor's degree, many reasonably well-paying jobs do not. The article reports that Jobs for the Future (JFF), a non-profit research group, has released a report detailing 16 jobs in growing industries that pay more than $25,000 annually but do not require a bachelor's, though some do require an associate's degree. The jobs include carpentry, bookkeeping, plumbing, truck-driving, and some sales and secretarial jobs. Nursing heads the list because it is projected to create the most new jobs annually (over 110,000). The median income listed for nursing, about $48,000, is the highest on the list. The piece does make clear that nursing "poses barriers for some lower-skilled entrants, including training programs that tend to be highly competitive and full-time." JFF vice president Jerry Rubin is quoted as saying that nursing is an "excellent paying occupation" with "tremendous shortages," but that entry usually requires at least three years of full-time study and "very, very strong math and science skills." The piece suggests that an easier alternative is to become a licensed practical nurse, which is number 12 on the list (median income about $31,400).
The piece's specific description of nursing isn't bad. It rightly stresses the difficulty of nursing programs, though the comment that it poses barriers for "some" lower-skilled entrants suggests that you can become a nurse with low skills. It's also possible that the piece will help to spread the word about opportunities in nursing, though it says nothing about whether nursing is fulfilling or useful. Not surprisingly, the piece also ignores the factors that have led to all these shortages in the first place.
The problem with the piece is some of the language it uses to describe the jobs generally. This starts with the original headline: "No college? Not necessarily a problem -- Report points to 16 good fields for lower-skilled workers." Similarly, the first sentence suggests that the report will be about jobs for those who "lack...a college degree." These statements wrongly suggest that the jobs discussed, including nursing, require no college at all, as if any training short of a bachelor's degree meant nothing. Of course, as the piece suggests, associate's degree programs in nursing often require something like three years of study, when all the pre-requisites are taken into account--a reality that the term "associate's degree" itself may not convey well.
Likewise, the headline's reference to "lower" skills, repeated in the report, is troubling because it equates less formal education with less skill, which is not necessarily the case. The piece suggests that all nurses, no matter what their background, skills or current responsibilities, have "lower skills." In fact, nurses are autonomous professionals who save lives and improve outcomes every day--using advanced skills based on years of college-level training. In addition, many of the other fields on the list are not fairly characterized as "lower skilled," an insensitive and sloppy shorthand for "requiring less formal education."
Of course, to some extent nursing faces unique challenges in confronting this kind of media product. To our knowledge, no other field on this list includes members with such a wide range of formal education backgrounds. We are not aware of doctoral or master's degrees being granted in customer service representation, secretarial work, or general maintenance and repair. As long as nursing has formal education entry requirements that seem comparable to these fields, it will be categorized with them, rather than with fields that require bachelor's or graduate degrees, such as teaching. It may be that society does not show enough real respect for the skills of workers who may not have bachelor's degrees, but who gain more expertise in years on the job. Many such workers, including police officers, electricians, and tractor-trailer drivers, have jobs with a high level of responsibility. But as long as nursing requires far less formal education than allied health professions (e.g., medicine, pharmacy, social work, physical therapy), it may have a difficult time convincing the media and the public that it should be considered comparable to those other fields.
We urge Ms. Coombes and CBS MarketWatch to apologize for the inaccurate language in parts of this article, and to exercise more care in the future in describing fields, such as nursing, whose members use advanced skills that are vital to the public's welfare.