Nursing student enrollment increases at lowest rate in 5 years

Despite a reported nursing shortage and a public call to hire more registered nurses, last year marked the lowest increase in enrollment in entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs in the past five years, according to a survey from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN).

Responses from 720 of the 858 nursing schools in the U.S. revealed enrollment increased just 2.6 percent from 2012 to 2013. Although it's the 13th consecutive year enrollment has increased, those schools identified a shortage of faculty and clinical education sites as potential barriers for future growth in meeting the country's need for nurses. The largest increase in nursing enrollment was from 2003 to 2004, when nursing students increased 16.6 percent, according to a graph from the AACN.

"Given the calls for a more highly educated nursing workforce from the Institute of Medicine, the Tri-Council for Nursing, nurse employers, and other stakeholders, we are pleased to see at least modest growth in the pipeline of new baccalaureate-prepared nurses," said AACN President Jane Kirschling, Ph.D., R.N., in the survey announcement.

Data also shows there are more nursing programs available for practicing nurses to expand their education to meet employment demands, with the number of students enrolled in baccalaureate degree completion programs jumping 12.4 percent.

Enrollment in master's nursing programs increased 4.4 percent among the 461 schools that responded to the question, and graduations increased 8.3 percent, according to the 436 schools that answered the survey question. Enrollment in doctoral nursing programs rose 21.6 percent during the same time period, according to the data.

"Moving more nursing students into graduate programs is fast becoming a national priority given the growing demand for nurses to serve as primary care providers, faculty, researchers and leaders," said Kirschling. "As opportunities for nurses prepared at the highest levels continue to expand, many more graduate-prepared nurses will be needed to provide essential healthcare services, including nurses to assume advanced practice registered nursing and other specialty roles."

The primary care shortage in healthcare has led many states to seek out nurses or expand scope of practice laws, FierceHealthcare previously reported. For example, in November, in an effort to improve access to quality care, Michigan's state senate voted 20-18 to pass Senate Bill 2, which allows for the licensure of advanced practice registered nurses, who can diagnose and treat patients and prescribe drugs without physician supervision.

The AACN said in the announcement that it will work even more to ensure enrollment in both baccalaureate and master's programs keeps growing by securing more federal funding, offering an annual faculty development conference, running minority faculty scholarship programs and focusing media attention on important issues.  

To learn more:
- here's the survey announcement
- check out the AACN graph