As far as being an RN goes, an ADN and a BSN nurse start out on the same foot. Quite honestly I can't tell the difference with who I work with on the floor unless their badge specifically says "Not Now, RN, BSN" (and that is a whole other can of worms...
). From what I've been told, by older nurses, diploma nurses blew everyone out of the water in terms of knowledge and skill due to the fact that they were on the floor from day one with MUCH more clinical time than anyone else.
Really, a lot of what makes a good, skilled, competent floor/staff nurse is experience and that is something that only comes with time. Another component is the desire to learn and continue learning long after graduation.
Where I live the advantage to having a BSN is working management and teaching, not even a pay differential in floor nursing.
The different ways to become an RN are a blessing not a hindrance. I started as a CNA, used that to pay my way through LVN school, used that (and took advantage of California's awesome Community College tuition plus financial aid) to pay for my ADN. Had I been able to afford to go directly to a BSN I would have but being newly divorced and broke, there was no way I could afford university tuition on my own (no kids).
As far as ARNP goes they actually have more autonomy than PA's in this state. This came up in a conversation about prescribing Procardia to co-workers so they could manage the night shift. The man is a PA and needs a supervising physician at all times so writing for Procardia isn't quite as easy for him. He has a DEA number but still is under a physician. The NP's he works with don't necessarily need that supervising physician. They also have DEA numbers (procardia is not controlled but is currently treated as one by some pharmacy's) and prescribe it without a problem. The whole DNP issue is odd to me and as I've said before the AMA will fight it tooth and nail because God forbid they lay down easily and call us "Dr."