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Despite Economic Challenges Facing Schools of Nursing, New AACN Data Confirm Sizable Growth in Doctoral Nursing Programs

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For Immediate Release

Despite Economic Challenges Facing Schools of Nursing,
New AACN Data Confirm Sizable Growth in Doctoral Nursing Programs

Enrollments Surge in Baccalaureate, Master’s, and Doctoral Nursing Programs
Even Though 67,000 Qualified Applications Were Turned Away in 2010

WASHINGTON, DC, March 16, 2011 - According to new data released today by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), enrollment in doctoral nursing programs increased significantly last year, indicating strong interest in both research-focused and practice-focused doctorates. Final results from AACN’s 2010 annual survey confirm that enrollments in baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral nursing programs continue to trend upward. Though nursing schools have been able to expand student capacity despite widespread funding cuts in higher education, the latest data show that more than 67,000 qualified applications to professional nursing programs were turned away last year, including more than 11,000 applications to graduate programs.

“Bringing more nurses into master’s and doctoral nursing programs must be a priority given the critical need for nurses to serve as scientists, faculty, primary care providers, specialists, and leaders within the healthcare system,” said AACN President Kathleen Potempa. “In response to calls for a more highly educated nursing workforce, our nation’s nursing schools are taking decisive action to expand programs that prepare expert nurses to deliver high quality, cost-effective care in a healthcare system undergoing reform.”

In October 2010, the Institute of Medicine and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released a landmark report on The Future of Nursing, which recommended a doubling of the number of nurses in the U.S. workforce with doctoral degrees. Nursing is well on the way to achieving this recommendation given the widespread growth in the number of Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs. In just five years, the number of schools offering the DNP has increased from 20 programs in 2006 to 153 programs in 2010, with another 106 programs in the planning stages. Last year, enrollment in these programs grew by 35.3% with 7,034 students now enrolled in DNP programs.

The 2010 AACN survey also found significant growth in research-focused doctoral programs (i.e., PhD, DNS), which climbed to 124 programs last year. In 2010, enrollment in PhD nursing programs increased by 10.4% (434 students) over the previous year. “AACN is committed to expanding capacity in PhD programs, promoting careers in nursing science, and enhancing the efforts of member schools to offer high quality research-focused doctorates,” added Dr. Potempa.

For a graph showing the increase in the number of doctoral nursing programs over the past five years, see

2010 AACN Survey Overview

AACN’s latest survey findings update the preliminary data announced in December 2010 and determine enrollment trends by comparing data from the same schools reporting in both 2009 and 2010. Final survey data show that enrollments in entry-level baccalaureate programs in nursing increased by 5.7% in 2010, a slight decrease below the earlier reported increase of 6.1%. For a graphic depicting enrollment changes in baccalaureate programs from 1994-2010, see

This increase in the baccalaureate student population is welcome news given the calls by AACN, the Institute of Medicine, the Tri-Council for Nursing, and other authorities to encourage academic progression for all entry-level nurses. In a 2009 report by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Dr. Patricia Benner and colleagues stated that “profound changes in nursing practice call for equally profound changes in the education of nurses.” The authors found that many of today’s new nurses are “undereducated” to meet practice demands across settings and voice their strong support for high-quality baccalaureate degree programs as the appropriate pathway for individuals entering the profession.

Other key findings from AACN’s 2010 survey include the following:

  • Survey Response: AACN's findings are based on responses from 706 nursing schools (88.1%) in the U.S. and its territories that grant baccalaureate and/or graduate degrees. AACN data reflect actual counts reported in Fall 2010 by nursing schools, not projections or estimates based on past reporting trends.
  • Applications and Acceptance Rate: In the 2009-2010 academic year, 242,013 completed applications were received for entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs with 151,662 meeting admission criteria and 96,976 applications accepted. These data translate into an acceptance rate of 40.1%. For a graphic showing a seven-year trend in applications received, see
  • Total Enrollment: The AACN survey found that total enrollment in all nursing programs leading to the baccalaureate degree is 238,799, an increase from 214,533 in 2009. Within this universe, 161,540 students are enrolled in entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs. In graduate programs, 86,746 students are enrolled in master’s programs, 4,611 are enrolled in research-focused doctoral programs, and 7,034 are enrolled in practice-focused doctoral programs in nursing.
  • Total Graduations: In terms of graduations, the AACN survey found that 73,570 students graduated from baccalaureate programs last year, including 51,039 students from entry-level programs and 22,531 students from baccalaureate degree completion programs. In graduate programs, 21,730 students graduated from master’s programs, 533 from research-focused doctorates, and 1,282 from practice-focused doctorates.
  • Student Diversity: At all levels, professional-level nursing programs reported increases in the number of students from minority backgrounds over the past year. While the percentage of students from underrepresented backgrounds remained high in entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs at 26.6%, the proportion of minority students in master’s programs increased to 26.3%, in research-focused doctoral programs to 23.3%, and in practice-focused doctoral programs to 21.3%. For ten-year data on diversity in nursing education programs, see
  • Men in Nursing: Though men represent only 6.6% of the U.S. nursing workforce, the percentage of men in baccalaureate and master’s nursing programs are 11.4% and 9.5%, respectively. In doctoral programs, 7.5% of students in research-focused programs and 9.0% of students in practice-focused programs are men.
  • Accelerated Programs: Accelerated nursing programs continue to be an important pathway into nursing for individuals with degrees in other fields who are looking to change careers. Currently, 13,605 students are enrolled in the nation’s 233 accelerated baccalaureate programs, up from 11,960 in 2009, and the number of graduates has climbed to 8,405. In the 63 accelerated master's degree programs now available, 5,600 students are enrolled, and 1,528 students graduated last year.
  • Degree Completion Programs: Given the call for nurses to continue their education, AACN was pleased to see growth in degree completion programs for RNs looking to earn a baccalaureate or master’s degree. From 2009 to 2010, enrollment in RN-to-Baccalaureate programs increased by 21.6%, which marks the eighth year of enrollment increases. Currently, 633 RN-to-Baccalaureate and 173 RN-to-Master's Degree programs are available nationwide with many programs offered completely online. In addition, 18 new RN-to-Baccalaureate and 32 new RN-to-Master’s programs are under development.
  • Clinical Nurse Leader: The national movement to advance the Clinical Nurse Leader® (CNL) role gained momentum last year with 7 new CNL programs opening, which brings the total number of programs to 88. Currently, 2,465 students are enrolled in these generalist master’s programs (up 24.7%) and 654 CNLs graduated last year (up 13.8%). For details on the CNL, see
  • Baccalaureate to Doctoral Programs: One innovative educational pathway that is bringing younger faculty and scientists into nursing is the Baccalaureate to Doctoral program. AACN's latest survey shows that 73 research-focused Baccalaureate to Doctoral programs are now available with an additional 13 programs under development.

Students Turned Away Reaches New High

Though interest in baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs is strong, thousands of qualified applicants are being turned away from four-year colleges and universities. In fact, AACN's survey found that 67,563 qualified applications were not accepted at schools of nursing last year due primarily to a shortage of faculty and resource constraints. Within this total, applications turned away include 54,686 from entry-level baccalaureate, 1,452 from RN-to-Baccalaureate, 10,223 from master's, and 1,202 from doctoral programs.

The top reasons reported by nursing schools for not accepting all qualified students into entry-level baccalaureate programs, include insufficient clinical teaching sites (65.1%), a lack of faculty (62.2%), limited classroom space (48.2%), insufficient preceptors (30.1%), and budget cuts (29.3%). For a graphic showing the number of qualified applicants turned away from entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs over the past seven years, see

About the AACN Survey

AACN's 30th Annual Survey of Institutions with Baccalaureate and Higher Degree Nursing Programs forms the basis for the nation's premier database on trends in nursing school enrollments and graduations, student and faculty demographics, and faculty and deans' salaries. Complete survey results are compiled in the report 2010-2011 Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing, which may be ordered online in late March at Details about AACN’s annual data reports on faculty and dean salaries will be available in April 2011.

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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 640 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. Web site:



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