Media Relations

Enrollment Growth in U.S. Nursing Colleges and Universities Hits an 8-Year Low

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Press Release
For Immediate Release

Enrollment Growth in U.S. Nursing Colleges and Universities Hits an 8-Year Low
According to New Data Released by AACN

A Minimal 2% Growth in the Baccalaureate Student Population May Signal that
Schools Have Reached Enrollment Capacity

WASHINGTON, D.C., December 3, 2008 – AACN today released preliminary survey data showing that enrollment in entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs increased by only 2.0 percent from 2007 to 2008. Though this marks the eighth consecutive year of enrollment growth, the annual increase in student capacity in four-year nursing programs has declined sharply since 2003 when enrollment was up by 16.6 percent. Adding to this sobering news is the fact that enrollment growth in master’s nursing programs has also decreased, and the number of students entering research-focused doctorates appears to be flat based on early reporting.

“The nation’s nursing schools are facing considerable barriers to expanding student capacity despite the calls for more nurses to replace the large segment of the workforce expected to retire within the next 10 years,” said AACN President Fay Raines. “This year’s enrollment increases are welcome, but largely insufficient to meet the projected demand for nursing clinicians, educators, and researchers into the foreseeable future.”

AACN’s latest data confirms that interest in nursing careers remains high with schools of nursing receiving many more qualified applications than can be accommodated. Preliminary data for 2008 show that 27,771 qualified applicants were turned away from entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs based on responses from 406 institutions. Most schools point to a shortage of faculty as the primary reason for turning away students. AACN expects this number to increase when final data is available in March 2009.

“The significant drop in the number of students turned away may indicate that students, frustrated in their attempts to enroll in nursing programs, are moving on and seeking careers in other fields,” said Dr. Raines. “If our nation’s nursing schools are to effectively address the current and future nursing shortage, we must find ways to expand student capacity and accommodate all qualified applicants in our programs.”

Slow Growth in Entry-Level Nursing Programs

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 2.0 percent enrollment increase is based on data supplied by the same 438 schools reporting in both 2007 and 2008 (70 percent of all programs). This is the eighth consecutive year of enrollment gains with 5.4, 7.6, 9.6, 14.1, 16.6, 8.1, and 3.7 percent increases in 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, and 2001, respectively. Prior to the eight-year upswing, baccalaureate nursing programs experienced six years of declining enrollments from 1995 through 2000. For a graphic depicting enrollment changes from 1994-2008, see http://www.aacn.nche.edu/media-relations/EnrollChanges.pdf.

The AACN survey also found that the number of graduates from entry-level baccalaureate programs increased by 8.2 percent from 2007 to 2008. The rise in graduations follows 8.6, 18.4, 13.4, 14.0, 4.3 and 3.2 percent increases in the number of graduates in 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003 and 2002, respectively. This upward trend was preceded by a six-year period of graduation declines from 1996 through 2001.

Enrollment Increases Down in Graduate Nursing Programs

Preliminary data from AACN’s Fall 2008 survey show that enrollment in master’s level nursing programs increased by 8.7 percent since 2007 (same 330 schools reporting), which also marks a significantly lower increase than was realized last year (11.7 percent) and 2006 (18.1 percent). Graduations from master’s programs increased by 10.6 percent in 2008 which is comparable to the increases in 2007 (12.3 percent) and 2006 (9.7 percent).

In doctoral nursing programs, overall enrollment is up by 9.7 percent, and graduations increased by 17.6 percent from 2007 to 2008 (116 schools reporting). Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs account for the growth in this student population with a 36.4 percent increase in enrollments reported this year. In 2008, the number of students enrolled in research-focused doctoral programs (i.e. PhD, DNSc) decreased slightly by 0.4 percent according to preliminary estimates.

“Maintaining a robust pipeline of nursing students in research-focused doctoral programs is critical to the nursing profession and a priority for AACN,” said Dr. Raines. “AACN’s recently formed Task Force on the Future of the Research-Focused Doctorate in Nursing is working to address this issue directly by identifying strategies to increase the number and diversity of individuals seeking careers as nurse researchers.” See http://www.aacn.nche.edu/dnp.

Fewer Qualified Students Turned Away

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 27,771 qualified applications were turned away from 406 entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs in 2008. This number is significantly lower than the final numbers reported in previous years which reached a high of 38,415 applications turned away in 2006. AACN expects this number to increase when final data on qualified applicants turned away in 2008 is available in March 2009.

The primary barriers to accepting all qualified students at nursing colleges and universities continue to be insufficient faculty, clinical placement sites, classroom space, and budget cuts. For a graphic showing the number of qualified applicants turned away from entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs over the past seven years, see http://www.aacn.nche.edu/Media/media-relations/TurnedAway.pdf.

To help address the primary obstacle to enrollment growth – the nurse faculty shortage - AACN is leveraging its resources to secure more federal funding for professional nursing programs, offer regional faculty development conferences, 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 http://www.aacn.nche.edu/media-relations/fact-sheets/nursing-faculty-shortage.

About the AACN Survey

Now in its 28th 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 2008 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 2009:

  • 2008-2009 Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing
  • 2008-2009 Salaries of Instructional and Administrative Nursing Faculty in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing
  • 2008-2009 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 http://www.aacn.nche.edu/research-data/standard-data-reports.


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 630 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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CONTACT:

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