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AACN Reports an Increase in Nursing School Enrollments for the Third Consecutive Year

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Press Release
For Immediate Release

AACN Reports an Increase in Nursing School Enrollments
for the Third Consecutive Year

Increase Falls Below Projected Need to Reverse the Nursing Shortage

WASHINGTON, DC, December 1, 2003 - According to preliminary results released today by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), enrollments in entry-level baccalaureate programs in nursing increased by 15.9 percent in fall 2003 over last year. Though this increase continues a three-year upward trend, this growth is still not sufficient to address the current registered nurse (RN) shortage which is expected to intensify over the next 10 years.

“With renewed calls on the national level for a more highly educated nursing workforce, it is very encouraging to see a growing interest in baccalaureate degree nursing as a career goal,” said AACN President Kathleen Ann Long, PhD, APRN, FAAN. “The dramatic growth in enrollments this year is a testament to the innovative work of schools nationwide to expand student capacity in nursing programs despite limited resources.”

AACN determines enrollment trends by comparing data from the same schools reporting in both 2002 and 2003. This year’s increase follows an 8.1 percent increase in entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs last year (2001 to 2002) and a 3.7 percent increase the preceding year (2000 to 2001). Prior to the last three years of enrollment increases, nursing schools nationwide experienced a six-year period of enrollment declines that saw the student population shrink from 127,683 in 1995 to 103,999 in 2000.

Though this year’s increase was substantial, AACN sees the need for much larger annual increases in student enrollments to meet the growing demand for nursing care. In a report published in the November/December 2003 issue of Health Affairs, Dr. Peter Buerhaus and his colleagues found that “because the number of young RNs has decreased so dramatically over the past two decades, enrollments of young people in nursing programs would have to increase at least 40 percent annually to replace those expected to leave the workforce through retirement.”

“Though the trend line is moving in the right direction, we recognize that schools are falling short of meeting the demand for well-educated nurses,” added Dr. Long. “AACN will continue to work with federal legislators and stakeholders to fund programs that expand student capacity at the baccalaureate and higher degree levels.”

The final results of AACN’s 23rd Annual Survey of Institutions with Baccalaureate and Higher Degree Nursing Programs will be released in late December 2003. These results will include changes in enrollment and graduations in RN-to-baccalaureate, master’s degree, and doctoral programs; nursing school enrollment changes by geographic region; and changes in the total enrollment of baccalaureate nursing students. Printed reports will be available in February 2004.

Why are nursing school enrollments up?

Nursing schools across the country have been successful in expanding student capacity despite a growing shortage of nurse faculty, deep cuts in state funding, and competition for clinical placement sites needed to educate nursing students. Nursing programs at colleges and universities cite many reasons for the enrollment increases, including forming partnerships between schools and clinical settings to support mutual needs; bringing career changers into the profession through accelerated degree programs; advocating for more federal funding for nursing education; and reaching out to men and students from diverse backgrounds.

For example, entry-level enrollments at the University of Rhode Island (URI) have more than doubled with 129 students entering the baccalaureate program in fall 2003 as compared to 55 students last year. Dr. Dayle Joseph, dean of URI’s College of Nursing, notes the positive impact of Johnson & Johnson’s national marketing campaign to generate interest in nursing careers as well as the school’s targeted recruitment efforts aimed at attracting under-represented groups into nursing. “We’ve made great strides in bringing diversity to our student body with 15 percent of the total nursing population being male and 18 percent from minority backgrounds,” said Dr. Joseph. “We are now working on making the faculty more diverse.”

Enrollment at Georgia Baptist College of Nursing is also at an all-time high with 391 students enrolled in the institution’s baccalaureate and graduate programs. The jump in enrollments is attributed in part to the school’s flourishing second-degree program. “In many cases, we are working with students who have already been successful at earning at least a four-year degree in anything from music to community health,” said Kim Hays, associate director of admissions at Georgia Baptist. “These students have now decided to pursue their dream of becoming a registered nurse.”

Though interest is running high in nursing careers, not all students can be accommodated at schools of nursing. “I have 1,051 students in the pipeline who are interested in pursuing a nursing major, but can only admit 120 students each year,” said Dr. Robyn Nelson, chair of the Division of Nursing at California State University-Sacramento. “We don’t have the funds, the space, or the faculty to handle more students, despite the great need for nurses in California.”


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 580 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.


Robert Rosseter, 202-463-6930, ext. 231