• Registered nurses;
  • wages;
  • school choice


A registered nurse (RN) license can be obtained by completing a baccalaureate degree (BSN), an associate degree (AD), or a diploma program. The aim of this article is to examine the return to baccalaureate education from the perspective of the nurse.

Data Sources

National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses, 2000, 2004, and 2008.

Study Design

The effect of education on RN wages is estimated using multivariate regression, both for initial education and for completing a second degree. The coefficients are used to calculate lifetime expected earnings. Multinomial logistic regression is used to examine the relationship between education and job title.

Principal Findings

Lifetime earnings for nurses whose initial education is the BSN are higher than those of AD nurses only if the AD program requires 3 years and the discount rate is 2 percent. For individuals who enter nursing with an AD, lifetime earnings are higher if they complete a BSN. The BSN is associated with higher likelihood of being an advanced practice registered nurse, having an academic title, and having a management title.


Because baccalaureate education confers benefits both for RNs and their patients, policies to encourage the pursuit of BSN degrees need to be supported.