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Student Enrollment Expands at U.S. Nursing Colleges and Universities for the 9th Year Despite Financial Challenges and Capacity Restraints

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For Immediate Release

Student Enrollment Expands at U.S. Nursing Colleges and Universities for the 9th Year Despite Financial Challenges and Capacity Restraints

Preliminary AACN Survey Data Show that Almost 40,000 Qualified Nursing School Applications Were Turned Away in 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C., December 2, 2009 – The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) today released preliminary survey data showing that enrollment in entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs increased by 3.5 percent from 2008 to 2009. Though this marks the ninth consecutive year of enrollment growth, nursing schools point to a shortage of faculty, insufficient clinical education sites, and budget cuts as barriers to future growth. Survey data also show a surge in enrollments in graduate nursing programs, which is promising given the need for nurses to serve in teaching, leadership, specialty, and primary care roles.

“Despite considerable financial challenges and capacity constraints, nursing schools nationwide were successful in their efforts to maintain a robust pipeline of future nurses this year,” said AACN President Fay Raines. “AACN applauds the efforts undertaken by schools to expand the nursing student population as well as national and state initiatives to recruit more students into nursing and enhance the education level of practicing nurses.”

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 3.5 percent enrollment increase for entry-level baccalaureate programs is based on data supplied by the same 511 schools reporting in both 2008 and 2009. This is the ninth consecutive year of enrollment gains. For a graphic depicting enrollment changes from 1994-2009, see

The AACN survey also found that the number of graduates from entry-level baccalaureate programs increased by 3.2 percent from 2008 to 2009 (492 schools reporting). The rise in graduations follows 8.5, 8.6, 18.4, 13.4, 14.0, 4.3 and 3.2 percent increases in the number of graduates in 2008, 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.

More Students Entering Graduate Nursing Programs

Preliminary data from AACN’s Fall 2009 survey show that enrollment in master’s and doctoral degree nursing programs increased significantly this year. Nursing schools with master’s programs reported a 9.6 percent increase in enrollment (409 schools reporting) and a 10.5 percent increase in graduations (380 schools reporting).

In doctoral nursing programs, overall enrollment is up by 20.5 percent (154 schools reporting), and graduations increased by 1.9 percent (92 schools reporting) from 2008 to 2009. Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs account for the largest share of the growth in this student population with a 40.9 percent increase in enrollments reported this year (85 schools reporting). In 2009, the number of students enrolled in research-focused doctoral programs (i.e. PhD, DNSc) increased by 4.1 percent according to preliminary estimates.

“Moving more nursing students into graduate programs is a top priority for the profession given the growing demand for more nurses to serve as teachers and researchers as well as specialty and primary care providers,” said Dr. Raines. “As we move closer to healthcare reform, many more nurses with master’s and doctoral degrees will be needed to provide essential healthcare service, including nurses to serve in the four Advanced Practice Registered Nurses roles (Clinical Nurse Specialist, Nurse Anesthetist, Nurse Practitioner, and Nurse Midwife).”

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 39,423 qualified applications were turned away from 550 entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs in 2009. This number is comparable to final data reported on students turned away in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008, which ranged from 36,400 to 41,385 applications. AACN expects this number to increase when final data on qualified applications turned away in 2009 is available in March 2010.

Based on data received from 318 schools of nursing, the primary barriers to accepting all qualified students at nursing colleges and universities continue to be a shortage of faculty (60.7 percent) and an insufficient number of clinical placement sites (61 percent). Given the cuts in state funding to schools of nursing last year, the number of schools reporting budget cuts/insufficient budget as a primary reason for turning students away more than doubled from 14.8 percent in 2008 to 31.1 percent in 2009. For a graphic showing the number of qualified applicants turned away from entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs over the past eight 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 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

About the AACN Survey


Now in its 29th 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 2009 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 2010:

  • 2009-2010 Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing

  • 2009-2010 Salaries of Instructional and Administrative Nursing Faculty in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing

  • 2009-2010 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 670 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