According to new survey data released today by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), enrollments in entry-level baccalaureate programs in nursing increased by 14.1 percent in fall 2004 over the previous year.
This enrollment increase is even greater than AACN’s preliminary data released on December 15, 2004 which showed a 10.6 percent increase. Despite this significant gain, more than 32,000 qualified applications were turned away from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs last year, including almost 3,000 students who could potentially fill faculty roles.
AACN’s findings are based on responses from 590 nursing schools in the U.S. and its territories. AACN data reflects actual counts reported in fall 2004 by nursing schools. The survey found that total enrollment in all nursing programs leading to the baccalaureate degree was 147,170, up from 126,954 in 2003.
AACN determines enrollment trends by comparing data from the same schools reporting in both 2003 and 2004. Data show that nursing school enrollments are up in all regions of the United States. The greatest increase was found in the North Atlantic states where enrollments in entry-level baccalaureate programs rose by 21.5 percent. Enrollments in the Midwest, South and West increased by 12.5 percent, 12.2 percent and 10.2 percent, respectively.
"Increasing enrollment in baccalaureate programs is a key first step to addressing the nation’s diminishing supply of nurse educators," said AACN President Jean E. Bartels, PhD, RN. "Since the overwhelming majority of nurses with master’s and doctoral degrees began their education in baccalaureate programs, efforts to overcome the faculty shortage must focus on boosting enrollment in four-year nursing programs."
The latest AACN survey found that both enrollments and graduations increased in master’s and doctoral degree nursing programs last year.
"Since the doctoral degree is the desired credential for a nurse educator, an increase of only 8 additional graduates last year is very disappointing news," said Dr. Bartels. "AACN will continue to work with the larger healthcare community to advocate for more federal funding for doctoral level education and with nurse educators to identify creative ways to expand enrollments at the graduate level."
One innovative program that is gaining momentum and helping to bring younger faculty into nursing is the Baccalaureate to Doctoral degree program.
These accelerated programs provide an efficient pathway to careers as nurse educators, researchers, and leaders for highly motivated students. Intense clinical experiences are embedded in these 4-5 year graduate programs, which build on the solid foundation provided in baccalaureate programs. AACN’s latest survey shows that 49
Baccalaureate to Doctoral programs are available nationwide with an additional 12 programs under development.
Given the calls for a better educated nurse workforce, AACN is pleased to see more registered nurses (RN) pursuing baccalaureate level education. From 2003 to 2004, enrollment in RN-to-Baccalaureate programs increased by 6.2 percent or 1,826 students, which marks the second year of enrollment increases.
"As educators, we must encourage all nursing students to further their education in the interest of providing the best nursing care possible," said Geraldine "Polly" Bednash, PhD, RN, FAAN, executive director of AACN. "AACN is committed to working with nurse educators at all levels to send a message that education makes a difference in care delivery and is key to career advancement."
Currently, there are 628 RN-to-Baccalaureate and 137 RN-to-Master’s Degree programs available at U.S. nursing schools, many of which are offered completely online. For the second year, AACN collected data on accelerated nursing programs. Last year, 22 new accelerated baccalaureate programs were launched, bringing the nationwide total to 151 programs. This total represents a 43.8 percent increase since fall 2002 when 105 such programs existed.
AACN’s latest survey found that 6,090 students are enrolled in accelerated baccalaureate programs. The number of program graduates nearly doubled with 2,422 graduates in 2004 compared to 1,352 in 2003. In the 41 accelerated master’s degree programs now available, 2,666 students are enrolled and 542 students graduated last year. In addition to the existing programs, 66 new accelerated programs are under development, including 46 baccalaureate and 20 master’s degree programs.
"For career changers who have already completed a four-year degree, accelerated programs provide the most efficient educational path to careers in professional nursing," said Dr. Bednash.
Though interest in baccalaureate and graduate nursing education programs is high, not all qualified applications are being accepted at four-year colleges and universities. In fact, AACN’s survey found that 32,797 qualified applicants were not accepted at schools of nursing last year due primarily to a shortage of faculty and resource constraints.
Within this total, applicants turned away include 29,425 from entry-level baccalaureate programs; 422 from RN-to-Baccalaureate programs; 2,748 from master’s programs; and 202 from doctoral programs.
The top reasons reported by nursing schools for not accepting all qualified students into entry-level baccalaureate programs, include insufficient faculty, admissions seats filled, and insufficient clinical teaching space.
"Given the nation’s diminishing supply of nurse faculty, it’s particularly disturbing to see that almost 3,000 qualified applicants were denied entry into graduate nursing programs last year," said Dr. Bartels.
In response to students being turned away from nursing schools, AACN is engaged in efforts to advocate for legislation that benefits nursing education.
"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, and all stakeholders," said Dr. Bartels.
"Together, we must remove barriers to nursing, provide incentives for nurses to advance their education, create practice environments that encourage professional development and foster nurse retention."