Media Relations

Student Enrollment Rises in U.S. Nursing Colleges and Universities for the 6th Consecutive Year

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Press Release
For Immediate Release

Student Enrollment Rises in U.S. Nursing Colleges and Universities for the 6th Consecutive Year

Despite this increase, more than 32,000 qualified applicants were turned away
from nursing programs in 2006 due to a shortage of nurse educators

WASHINGTON, D.C., December 5, 2006 – AACN today released preliminary survey data which show that enrollment in entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs increased by 5.0 percent from 2005 to 2006. Though this increase is welcome, surveyed nursing colleges and universities turned away more than 32,000 qualified applicants due primarily to a shortage of nurse educators. AACN is very concerned about the high number of qualified students being turned away from nursing programs each year given the national nursing shortage, which is expected to intensify through the year 2020.

“Nursing schools nationwide are effectively answering the calls to expand student capacity given the growing need for nursing services in the U.S.,” said AACN President Jeanette Lancaster. “With limited resources available to nursing schools and a dwindling population of nurse faculty, future enrollment increases may not be possible without a significant boost in federal and state funding needed to prepare new faculty, enhance teaching resources, and upgrade nursing school infrastructure.”

In a report released in April 2006, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) projects that nursing schools must increase the number of graduates by 90 percent in order to adequately address the nursing shortage. With an18.0 percent increase in graduations from baccalaureate nursing programs this year, schools are falling far short of meeting this target. By the year 2020, 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.

Trends in Nursing School Enrollments

AACN’s annual survey is the primary 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 5.0 percent enrollment increase is based on data supplied by the same 433 schools reporting in both 2005 and 2006. This is the sixth consecutive year of enrollment gains with 9.6, 14.1, 16.6, 8.1, and 3.7 percent increases in 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, and 2001, respectively. Prior to the six-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 1994-2006, see media-relations/EnrollChanges.pdf.

The AACN survey also found that the number of graduates from entry-level baccalaureate programs increased by 18.0 percent from 2005 to 2006. The recent rise in graduations follows 13.4, 14, 4.3 and 3.2 percent increases in the number of graduates in 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 is strong, access to professional nursing education is becoming more difficult. AACN’s preliminary findings show that 32,323 qualified applications to entry-level baccalaureate programs were not accepted in 2006 based on responses from 449 schools. The number of qualified applications turned away each year from these programs remains high with 37,514; 29,425; 15,944; and 3,600 students turned award in 2005, 2004, 2003 and 2002, respectively. 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 applications turned away from baccalaureate nursing programs over the past five years, see media-relations/TurnedAway.pdf.

To help address the shortage of nursing faculty, AACN is leveraging its resources to secure federal funding for faculty development programs, collect data on faculty vacancy rates, identify strategies to address the shortage, and focus media attention on this important issue. This work includes:

  • Collaborating with other nursing groups to mobilize support for more federal funding for nursing education, including support for the Nurse Faculty Loan Program and the creation of new legislation such as the Nurse Faculty Education Act and the Nurse Education, Expansion and Development Act introduced in the 109th Congress.
  • Leading the effort to expand the Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need program administered by the U.S. Department of Education to include nursing. As a result, nursing in now recognized as an area of national need and new funding for PhD programs in nursing is available.
  • Creating a new minority faculty scholarship program with The California Endowment to increase the number of nurse educators from underrepresented groups.
  • Offering a new Faculty Development Institute in February 2007 to help prepare and retain new nursing faculty at schools nationwide.
  • Highlighting statewide initiatives and other best practices related to addressing the faculty shortage via issue bulletins, white papers, media articles and Web resources.

For more detail on the nurse faculty shortage and AACN’s response, see http://www.aacn.nche.edu/media-relations/fact-sheets/nursing-faculty-shortage.

Interest Runs High in Professional Nursing Careers

The robust interest in professional nursing careers can be attributed in part to successful outreach efforts guided by the nation’s nursing schools. Strategies employed to increase student capacity this year included forming alliances with hospitals and other practice sites to address faculty and clinical space constraints. Some schools have expanded or opened new accelerated programs for second-degree seekers looking to transition into nursing while others have taken advantage of state and federal funding aimed at strengthening the nursing workforce. In addition to these school-based initiatives, both Johnson & Johnson and the Nurses for a Healthier Tomorrow coalition continued their national media campaigns to encourage careers in nursing.

Given the demands of today’s health care system, the greatest need in the nursing workforce is for nurses prepared at the baccalaureate and higher 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. Last year, the American Organization of Nurse Executives (AONE), the national voice for nurse leaders in the practice arena, began calling for baccalaureate preparation for all RNs in the future. The growing complexity of patient care and the increase in patient acuity require that nurses have the best entry-level preparation available.

“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. “

About the AACN Survey

Now in its 26th year, AACN’s Annual Survey of Institutions with Baccalaureate and Higher Degree Nursing Programs is conducted each year 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 reflects actual counts reported in fall 2006 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 February 2007:

  • 2006-2007 Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing
  • 2006-2007 Salaries of Instructional and Administrative Nursing Faculty in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing
  • 2006-2007 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 research-data.

Editor’s Note: News media may obtain selected tables from these data reports by contacting Robert Rosseter at rrosseter@aacn.nche.edu or 202-463-6930, extension 231. Requests for regional data and local enrollment success stories are also welcome.


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 600 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. www.aacn.nche.edu

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CONTACT:

Robert Rosseter, 202-463-6930, ext. 231
rrosseter@aacn.nche.edu