Nurses are biggest beneficiaries of licensing fee waivers

Photo from Mesa Community College

A program that allows low-income Arizonans to get started on their careers without paying fees for their state-issued occupational licenses has been a hit with people who are going into nursing.

Under the 2017 law, first-time applicants from families that earn less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level can apply for a waiver that exempts them from paying licensing fees, which can range from $60 to $560, according to the governor’s office. The law was a signature agenda item for Gov. Doug Ducey, who has made occupational licensing reform one of his top priorities.

The federal poverty level for an individual is currently set at $12,140, and increases depending on the number of people in a household. For a family of four, the poverty level is $25,100.

While the waiver program applies to most occupational licenses offered by the state, the overwhelming majority of waivers go to people who seek certification as nurses. About 79 percent of the waivers granted since 2017 by state agencies and licensing boards have gone to people who are going into nursing. That number was as high as 93 percent, the governor’s office reported in July 2018

“You can see the marketplace and us removing the obstacles allowing hardworking citizens inside our state to pursue happiness in the way that they choose. And sometimes that’s to be an aspiring nurse. Sometimes it’s going to be to be an electrician or a welder or to begin climbing the economic ladder,” Ducey told the crowd at an Arizona Chamber of Commerce luncheon in June.

As of April, the Arizona State Board of Nursing had approved 698 of the 798 applications for waivers it received. The majority of those waivers, 547, went to people who were taking the state’s exam for registered nurses, while a smaller number went to people seeking to become licensed practical nurses or licensed nursing assistants.

According to the Board of Nursing, those waivers exempted aspiring nurses from $104,500 in fees. Board of Nursing fees for exams and certifications vary, ranging from as low as $50 for a nursing assistant endorsement and $75 to get certified as a school nurse to as much as $300 for an exam and licensure as a registered nurse. 

Margi Schultz, who heads up the nursing program at Gateway Community College and oversees the eight nursing programs in the Maricopa County Community College District, said she can’t speak to why people in other professions aren’t taking greater advantage of the fee waiver program. But she had some thoughts about why it’s so popular among people who are going into nursing. 

“These are very often single moms that are coming into the program. We have single dads that are coming into the program. They’re working people who are going into community college to get their nursing degree to really better their families’ lives,” Schultz said. “They are almost experts at looking for scholarships, grants, any monies that might be out there to help them along the way, because every dime counts for these students.”

The cost of an associate’s degree in nursing from a Maricopa County community college ranges from $7,000-$8,000, Schultz said. Costs vary at different programs across the state, with some private schools charging tens of thousands of dollars. Cochise College estimates the cost of its nursing program to be about $13,000 for Arizona residents, according to information provided by the school.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, registered nurses in Arizona earned an average salary of $77,000 in 2018. Licensed practical and vocational nurses had an average salary of $54,090, while nursing assistants earned an average of $31,450.

Ducey credited the Board of Nursing with the success of the program within the industry.

“Nursing represents a rapidly growing field that pays a median salary of $77,000. And their board has prioritized this issue. Not everyone has. They should take the example of the Nursing Board and follow suit,” Ducey said in a statement provided to the Arizona Mirror

At some schools outside of the Maricopa County community college system, students with financial aid don’t have to worry about paying for their licensing and exam fees. Cochise College, for example, covers those costs for students on financial aid.

The governor’s office said the state has waived 881 fees for low-income applicants over the past two years. Of the non-nursing waivers granted by other state agencies and licensing boards, 41 were granted by the Arizona State Board of Respiratory Care Examiners, 36 by the Arizona State Board of Massage Therapy, 26 by the Arizona Regulatory Board of Physician Assistants and 16 by the Naturopathic Physicians Medical Board. The rest were granted for a smattering of other professions, including accounting, acupuncture, cosmetology, occupational therapy and psychology, among others.


A broader push for licensing reform

Occupational licensing reform has been a top agenda item for Ducey since taking office in 2015. 

In the 2019 legislative session, he championed a new license reciprocity law, under which Arizona became the first state to recognize occupational licenses people obtained in other states. President Donald Trump praised the licensing law during a White House meeting on workforce mobility in June, telling Ducey that Arizona was at the forefront of the issue and expressing hope that other states would follow its lead. 

Also in 2019, Ducey signed legislation allowing people to blow dry hair professionally without a cosmetology license. In 2016, Ducey pushed legislation to eliminate licensing requirements for several professions, including geologists, assayers, driving school instructors, yoga teachers and citrus fruit packers, and signed a separate bill scrapping licensing requirements for talent agents. 

Jeremy Duda
Associate Editor Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”


  1. Oh those poor nursing students have no idea what they have entered into with the corrupt board of nursing in az.
    “””allowing hardworking citizens inside our state to pursue happiness in the way that they choose.”””doug ducey
    Ducey forgot to add ” we will just ignore the hard working , long term nurses who have given their priority and life dedication to nursing , only to be railroaded by this corrupt board , and lose their entire life savings, their career, livlihood, reputation , and retirement ” many nurses , np are victims of the horrible board, who Ducey reports is ‘bettering families lives ” , while destroying others.
    A misplaced statement , “credits the AZBON with success ” when actually their reputation is at an all time low. Their mandate is to protect the public, not suck new nurses in with no license fee , knowing they will benefit every time they renew (one of the highest license fees in the nation ).
    To the nurses who have suffered by the poor decision, the witch hunts, the lies smeared about them , forced mental treatment hanging the license over there head. these statements by Ducey make us sick , know what we know , and wish we had never obtained a license in AZ. It is like giving you a ‘free lunch ticket ‘ to be a part of this , knowing you new grads are the future probation people they have taken down and make money off you, or revocation. And if you think a nurse cannot lose their license by doing nothing wrong , think again. The second worse thing these nurses can do is join the AZNA , a political org, who are NOT for nurses (but the BON promotes to new grads to join this group ! )

  2. Hopefully not too many listening to the ‘report” on the AZBON by Ducey will believe most of it. People who are already licensed have no idea how the AZBON really operates unless they have been a target. I know for a fact, they railroad certain ones, use taxpayers money and go on witch hunts. You can lose your nursing license, your career not a job, and have your reputation destroyed that puts you out of work in many other areas . A report of a dangerous male in an apt complex, which a hospital owns. “witness’s who are liars, and can be proven , will make statements the board knows are lies and post it all over the internet. Many people think a agency such as this cannot post lies or face litigation , they do it all the time , just put quotes of people in the records. AZBON has one of the worst reputations in the country. AZ STATE BOARD OF NURSING CORRUPTION WATCHDOGS (lots to read, I would not get a nursing license in aZ if it were free or they paid me !!)

  3. Of course, they need to make nurse licensing as easily as possible to attract nurses to their ‘trap’. they need to keep increasing their nurse database to keep up with all the nurses they are kicking out of the profession.

    nurses getting licensed to work in AZ must exceed the nurses being ‘outed’ unfairly and unjustly, or the number left to care for AZ residents would dwindle


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