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Enrollment Growth Slows at U.S. Nursing Schools Despite Calls for a More Highly Educated Nursing Workforce
[January 09, 2014]

Enrollment Growth Slows at U.S. Nursing Schools Despite Calls for a More Highly Educated Nursing Workforce

WASHINGTON --(Business Wire)--

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) today released preliminary survey data showing that enrollment in entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs increased by 2.6% from 2012 to 2013, which marks the lowest enrollment increase in professional registered nurse (RN) programs over the past five years. Findings are based on data reported from 720 of the 858 schools of nursing in the U.S. (83.9% response rate) with baccalaureate and/or graduate programs. Though RN enrollment increased for the 13th consecutive year, nursing schools have identified a shortage of faculty and clinical education sites as potential barriers to realizing future growth and meeting the nation's need for healthcare providers.

"Given the calls for a more highly educated nursing workforce from the Institute of Medicine, the Tri-Council for Nursing, nurse employers, and other stakeholders, we are pleased to see at least modest growth in the pipeline of new baccalaureate-prepared nurses," said AACN President Jane Kirschling. "AACN applauds the efforts undertaken by schools to find successful and creative ways to expand the nursing student population despite resource constraints and other challenges facing many academic programs."

Demand Increases for Baccalaureate Nursing Education

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 2.6% enrollment increase for entry-level baccalaureate programs is based on data supplied by the same schools reporting in both 2012 and 2013. To download a graphic depicting enrollment changes in baccalaureate nursing programs from 1994-2013, see

Preliminary AACN data also show a strong enrollment surge in baccalaureate nursing programs designed for practicing nurses looking to expand their education in response to employer demands and patient expectations. The number of students enrolled in baccalaureate degree completion programs, also known as RN to BSN programs, increased by 12.4% last year (512 schools reporting). This year marks the 11th year of enrollment increases in these programs and offers further validation of the desire among nurses to advance their education to remain competitive in today's workforce. Looking ahead, AACN will work collaboratively with stakeholders to ensure that enrollment in both baccalaureate and master's level degree completion programs for RNs expands even further to meet the recommendations outlined in the 2011 Future of Nursing report prepared by the Institute of Medicine. For more details on the need to prepare a well-educated nursing workforce and AACN's work to facilitate academic progression, see:

AACN Fact Sheet: Creating a More Highly Qualified Workforce

AACN Fact Sheet: The Impact of Education on Nursing Practice

AACN Research Brief: Employment of New Nurse Graduates and Employer Preferences for Baccalaureate-Prepared Nurses

Pipeline into Graduate Nursing Programs Expands

Preliminary data from AACN's fall 2013 survey also confirm that enrollment in master's and doctoral degree nursing programs increased last year. Nursing schools with master's programs reported a 4.4% increase in enrollment (461 schools reporting) and an 8.3% increase in graduations (436 schools reporting). In doctoral nursing programs, the greatest growth was seen in Doctor of Nursing Practice programs where enrollment rose by 21.6% (207 schools reporting) from 2012 to 2013. During this same time period, enrollment in research-focused doctoral programs (i.e., PhD, DNSc) increased by 1.7% or 84 students according to initial survey results (126 schools reporting).

"Moving more nursing students into graduate programs is fast becoming a national priority given the growing demand for nurses to serve as primary care providers, faculty, researchers, and leaders," said Dr. Kirschling. "As opportunities for nurses prepared at the highest levels continue to expand, many more graduate-prepared nurses will be needed to provide essential healthcare services, including nurses to assume Advanced Practice Registered Nursing and other specialty roles."

Qualified Students Turned Away from Schools of Nursing

Though interest in nursing careers remains strong, many individuals seeking to enter the profession cannot be accommodated in nursing programs despite meeting all program entry requirements. Preliminary AACN data show that 53,667 qualified applications were turned away from 610 entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs in 2013. AACN expects this number to increase when final data on all qualified applications turned away last year is available in March 2014. The primary barriers to accepting all qualified students at nursing colleges and universities continue to be a shortage of faculty, clinical placement sites, and funding. For a graphic showing the number of qualified applicants turned away from entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs over the past 12 years, see

To help address one of the primary obstacles to enrollment growth - the nurse faculty shortage - AACN is leveraging its resources to secure more federal funding for graduate level nursing education, offer an annual faculty development conference for new nurse educators in February, administer minority faculty 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 details on the nurse faculty shortage and AACN's response, see

About the AACN Survey

Now in its 33rd year, AACN's Annual Survey of Institutions with Baccalaureate and Higher Degree Nursing Programs is conducted by the association's Research and Data 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 2013 by nursing schools, not projections or estimates based on past reporting.

The annual AACN survey is a collaborative effort with data on nurse practitioner programs collected jointly with the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties and data on clinical nurse specialist programs collected with the National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists. Complete survey results are compiled in three separate reports, which will be available in March 2014:

  • 2013-2014 Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing
  • 2013-2014 Salaries of Instructional and Administrative Nursing Faculty in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing
  • 2013-2014 Salaries of Deans in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing

More information about the upcoming data reports will be posted soon on the AACN Web site at

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) is the national voice for university and four-year college education programs in nursing. Representing more than 730 member schools of nursing at public and private institutions nationwide, AACN's educational, research, governmental advocacy, data collection, publications, and other programs work to establish quality standards for bachelor's- and graduate-degree nursing education, assist deans and directors to implement those standards, influence the nursing profession to improve health care, and promote public support of baccalaureate and graduate nursing education, research, and practice.

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