Enrollment Growth Slows at U.S. Nursing Colleges and Universities in 2007 Despite Calls for More Registered Nurses

Dec 03, 2007, 00:00 ET from American Association of Colleges of Nursing

    WASHINGTON, Dec. 3 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The American Association
 of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) today released preliminary survey data that
 show that enrollment in entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs
 increased by 4.98 percent from 2006 to 2007. Though this marks the seventh
 consecutive year of enrollment growth, the rate at which nursing schools
 have been able to increase student capacity has declined sharply since 2003
 when enrollment was up by 16.6 percent. While this increase represents a
 positive trend, AACN is concerned that more than 30,000 qualified
 applicants were turned away from baccalaureate nursing programs last year
 due primarily to an intensifying shortage of nurse faculty.
     "In an environment of diminishing faculty and financial resources,
 nursing schools nationwide must be commended once again for managing to
 expand student capacity in professional nursing programs," said AACN
 President Jeanette Lancaster. "Still, with the nation facing a nursing
 shortage into the foreseeable future, more must be done to ensure that all
 qualified individuals looking to enter the field are accommodated in
 baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs."
     By the year 2020, the Health Resources and Services Administration
 (HRSA) projects that more than one million new Registered Nurses (RNs) will
 be needed in the U.S. healthcare system to meet the demand for nursing
 care. HRSA projects that nursing schools must increase the number of
 graduates by 90 percent in order to adequately address the nursing
 shortage. With preliminary data showing a 7.4 percent increase in
 graduations from baccalaureate nursing programs this year, schools are
 falling far short of meeting this target.
     Trends in Nursing School Enrollments:
     AACN's annual survey is the most reliable source for actual (versus
 projected) data on enrollment and graduations reported by the nation's
 baccalaureate- and graduate-degree programs in nursing. This year's 4.98
 percent enrollment increase is based on data supplied by the same 427
 schools reporting in both 2006 and 2007. This is the seventh consecutive
 year of enrollment gains with 7.6, 9.6, 14.1, 16.6, 8.1, and 3.7 percent
 increases in 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, and 2001, respectively. Prior to
 the seven-year upswing, baccalaureate nursing programs experienced six
 years of declining enrollments from 1995 through 2000. For a graphic
 depicting enrollment changes in baccalaureate nursing programs from
 1994-2007, see
     The AACN survey also found that the number of graduates from
 entry-level baccalaureate programs increased by 7.4 percent from 2006 to
 2007. The rise in graduations follows 18.4, 13.4, 14.0, 4.3 and 3.2 percent
 increases in the number of graduates in 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003 and 2002,
 respectively. This upward trend was preceded by a six-year period of
 graduation declines from 1996 through 2001.
     Qualified Students Turned Away Despite Nursing Shortage:
     Though interest in nursing careers remains strong, many individuals
 seeking to enter the profession cannot be accommodated in nursing programs
 due to faculty and resource constraints. Preliminary AACN data show that
 30,709 qualified applications were turned away from entry-level
 baccalaureate nursing programs in 2007. The number of qualified applicants
 denied admission each year remains high with 38,415; 37,514; 29,425;
 15,944; and 3,600 students turned away in 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003 and 2002,
 respectively. AACN expects this number to rise even higher when final data
 on qualified applicants turned away in 2007 is available in March 2008. The
 primary barriers to accepting all qualified students at nursing colleges
 and universities continue to be insufficient faculty, clinical placement
 sites, and classroom space. For a graphic showing the number of qualified
 applicants turned away from baccalaureate nursing programs over the past
 six years, see http://www.aacn.nche.edu/Media/ppt/02-07turnedaway.ppt.
     "A successful solution to the shortage of RNs and nurse faculty will
 require a collaborative effort on the part of the nursing profession, the
 health care system, the federal government, businesses, and all
 stakeholders," added Dr. Lancaster. "Together, we must remove barriers to
 pursuing a nursing education, provide incentives for nurses to advance
 their education, facilitate careers in academic nursing, and create
 practice environments that encourage professional practice and respect
 educational achievement."
     To help address the shortage of nursing faculty, AACN is leveraging its
 resources to secure federal funding for professional nursing programs,
 offer regional faculty development conferences, administer minority faculty
 recruitment scholarship programs, collect annual data on faculty vacancy
 rates, identify strategies to address the shortage, and focus media
 attention on this important issue. For more detail on the nurse faculty
 shortage and AACN's response, see
     Interest Runs High in Professional Nursing Careers:
     Given the demands of today's health care system, the greatest need in
 the nursing workforce is for nurses prepared at the baccalaureate- and
 graduate- degree levels. With the government calling for baccalaureate
 preparation for at least two thirds of the nursing workforce, the evidence
 clearly shows that higher levels of nursing education are linked with lower
 patient mortality rates, fewer errors, and greater job satisfaction among
 RNs. The American Organization of Nurse Executives (AONE), the national
 voice for nurse leaders in the practice arena, also calls for baccalaureate
 preparation for all RNs in the future. The growing complexity of patient
 care and the increase in patient acuity require that RNs have the best
 entry-level preparation available.
     Advocating for less than a baccalaureate degree in nursing has
 contributed greatly to the current shortage of nurse educators. Data from
 the federal Division of Nursing clearly show that graduates of
 baccalaureate-degree programs in nursing are four times more likely than
 graduates of associate degree programs to pursue a doctoral or master's
 degree, which is needed to teach in all types of nursing programs.
     "To stabilize the nursing workforce, the federal government and other
 stakeholders must focus on increasing nursing school enrollments at the
 baccalaureate level," said Dr. Lancaster. "Besides adding to the RN
 workforce, graduates of baccalaureate nursing programs are much more likely
 to pursue graduate education and achieve the credentials needed to serve as
 nurse educators."
     AACN and other authorities believe that education has a strong impact
 on a nurse's ability to practice, and that patients deserve the best
 educated nursing workforce possible. A growing body of research from Dr.
 Linda Aiken and others shows a strong connection between baccalaureate
 education and lower mortality rates. The nursing shortage cannot be used as
 a reason for denying patients the best care possible, especially when
 almost 800 programs exist to move entry-level nurses to the baccalaureate
 and graduate levels. For more details on the programs available to create a
 more highly qualified nursing workforce, including online options, see
     About the AACN Survey:
     Now in its 27th year, AACN's Annual Survey of Institutions with
 Baccalaureate and Higher Degree Nursing Programs is conducted by the
 association's Data and Research Center. Information from the survey forms
 the basis for the nation's premier database on trends in enrollments and
 graduations, student and faculty demographics, and faculty and deans'
 salaries. AACN data reflect actual counts reported in fall 2007 by nursing
 schools, not projections or estimates based on past reporting. More
 information about the upcoming data reports will be posted soon on the AACN
 Web site at http://www.aacn.nche.edu/IDS/datarep.htm.

SOURCE American Association of Colleges of Nursing