Workforce trends: Graduates of four-year nursing programs continue to increase

The popularity of Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) programs continues to rise, while the opposite is true of two-year programs, according to a Health Affairs analysis of data from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

The analysis examined the number of nursing graduates from 2001-2014 who took the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), a standardized entry exam that nursing hopefuls must pass in order to practice in the United States.

One surprising trend is that the 1.8 percent increase of first-time NCLEX takers who graduated from U.S. registered nurse programs between 2013 and 2014 was the smallest in a decade, which could indicate a "slowing of the growth rate," the analysis states. Yet the marked decrease of foreign-educated nurses who took the exam in the past seven years "appears to be a reflection of the increased production of U.S.-educated nurses," the analysis states.

Indeed, the number of first-time NCLEX takers from the U.S. has increased 130 percent in the past 14 years, Health Affairs notes, indicating a strong response to concerns about a nursing shortage. Still, the U.S. is likely to face a 40 percent increase in demand for nurses between 2000 and 2020, according to an infographic from the Adventist University of Health Sciences, while supply is only expected to grow by 6 percent in that time. And states such as California, Florida, Wyoming, Texas and Georgia all face particularly acute demand for nurses.  

Perhaps even more telling is Health Affairs' comparison between the data on BSN graduates, who receive four years of training, and associate degree and "diploma" graduates, both of which require only two years. The number of BSN graduates who took the test for the first time increased by 5.1 percent from 2013 to 2014, and a whopping 177 percent between 2001 and 2014.

These findings echo recent data from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, which reported an "enrollment surge" in baccalaureate, master's and doctoral nursing programs, according to FierceHealthcare. Research from the same organization also found that bachelor's and master's nursing program graduates are much more likely to receive a job offer upon graduation than any other field.

That growth, however, is not reflected in diploma nursing programs, whose ranks of test takers and passers have dropped since 2010. The dip in associate degree graduates appeared to be more recent, as test passers have decreased since 2012 and first-time NCLEX takers decreased in 2014 for the first time in at least a dozen years, according to the data.

To learn more:
- here's the analysis
- check out the infographic