AACN: Enrollment in nursing education programs rising

(Nurse.com) Enrollment in BSN, MSN and doctoral nursing programs increased last year, with more nurses answering the call to advance their education, according to new data from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

Although nursing schools have been able to expand student capacity despite faculty and resource shortfalls, the latest data showed 75,857 qualified applicants to professional nursing programs were turned away last year, including more than 14,354 applications to graduate programs.

“With the [2010] release of the Institute of Medicine’s report on the future of nursing, the national conversations about increasing the education level of the nursing workforce are accelerating,” AACN President Kathleen Potempa, RN, PhD, FAAN, said in a news release. “Last year’s enrollment increases across all types of baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs clearly indicate a strong interest among nursing students in advancing their education and developing the skills needed to thrive in contemporary care settings.”

The IOM has called for at least 80% of the nursing workforce to hold a BSN degree by 2020, and for doubling of the number of nurses with doctorates. AACN said implementing the IOM recommendations will propel the nursing profession forward and put nurses in better positions to become full partners in reforming the country’s healthcare delivery system.

AACN’s latest survey findings update preliminary data announced last December and determine enrollment trends by comparing data from the same schools reporting in both 2010 and 2011. Final survey data show enrollments in entry-level BSN programs increased by 5.1% in 2011, a significantly higher percentage than was originally reported in December (3.9%). For a graphic depicting enrollment changes in BSN programs from 1994 to 2011, see www.aacn.nche.edu/Media-Relations/EnrollChanges.pdf.

Key data

Survey response: AACN’s findings are based on responses from 733 nursing schools (87.5%) in the U.S. and its territories that grant BSN and/or graduate degrees. AACN data reflect actual counts reported in Fall 2011 by nursing schools.

Applications and acceptance rate: In the 2010-2011 academic year, 255,671 completed applications were received for entry-level BSN programs (a 5.6% increase from 2009-10) with 159,387 meeting admission criteria and 101,060 applications accepted. These data translate into an acceptance rate of 39.5%. For a graphic showing an eight-year trend in applications received, see www.aacn.nche.edu/media-relations/apps.pdf.

Total enrollment: The survey found total enrollment in all programs leading to the BSN degree is 259,100, an increase from 238,799 in 2010. Within this population, 169,125 students are enrolled in entry-level BSN programs. In graduate programs, 94,480 students are enrolled in MSN programs, 4,907 in research-focused doctoral (PhD, DNS — hereafter referred to as PhD) programs and 9,094 in practice-focused doctorate in nursing (DNP, ND, DrNP — hereafter referred to as DNP) programs.

Total graduations: The survey found 80,768 students graduated from BSN programs last year, including 52,922 from entry-level programs and 27,846 from BSN completion programs. In graduate programs, 24,311 students graduated from MSN programs, 601 from PhD programs and 1,595 from DNP programs.

Student diversity: At all levels, professional-level nursing programs reported increases in the number of students from minority backgrounds over the past year. The percentage of students from underrepresented backgrounds increased to 26.9% in entry-level BSN programs, 26.6% in MSN programs, 24.7% in PhD programs and 22% in DNP programs. For 10-year data on diversity in nursing programs, see http://www.aacn.nche.edu/research-data/EthnicityTbl.pdf.

Men in nursing: Although men represent only 6.6% of U.S. nurses, the percentages of men in BSN and MSN programs are 11.4% and 9.9%, respectively. In doctoral programs, 6.8% of students in PhD programs and 9.4% of students in DNP programs are men.

Accelerated programs: Accelerated programs continue to be an important pathway into nursing for individuals with degrees in other fields seeking to change careers. Currently, 14,124 students are enrolled in the nation’s 235 accelerated BSN programs, up from 13,605 in 2010, and the number of graduates climbed to 9,509. In the 63 accelerated MSN programs now available, 5,980 students are enrolled and 1,796 students graduated last year. See www.aacn.nche.edu/media-relations/fact-sheets/accelerated-programs.

Degree completion programs: From 2010 to 2011, enrollment in RN-to-BSN programs increased by 15.8%, marking the ninth year of enrollment increases and another step toward meeting the IOM’s call for nurses to continue their education. Currently, 648 RN-to-BSN and 168 RN-to-MSN programs are available nationwide, with many offered completely online. In addition, 25 RN-to-BSN and 37 RN-to-MSN programs are under development. See www.aacn.nche.edu/media-relations/fact-sheets/degree-completion-programs.

Clinical Nurse Leader programs: The national movement to advance the CNL role gained momentum last year with nine CNL programs opening, bringing the total to 97. Currently, 2,817 students are enrolled in these master’s programs (up 14.3%), and 926 CNLs graduated last year (up 41.6%). For details see www.aacn.nche.edu/CNL.

Doctor of Nursing Practice programs: The number of schools offering the DNP has increased from 20 in 2006 to 184 in 2011, with another 101 programs in the planning stages. Enrollment in these programs grew by 28.9% in 2011, with 9,094 students now enrolled in DNP programs.

Research-focused doctoral programs: The survey found significant growth in the number of research-focused doctoral programs, which climbed to 125 last year, with enrollment increasing by 7.9% over the previous year. Since the DNP movement began to take shape in 2003, enrollment in research-focused doctoral programs has increased by 52%.

BSN-to-Doctoral programs: These innovative educational pathways can bring younger faculty and scientists into nursing, according to AACN. The latest survey showed 77 research-focused BSN-to-Doctoral programs now available, with an additional seven programs under development. See www.aacn.nche.edu/research-data/BACDOC.pdf.

Students turned away

The survey found that thousands of qualified applicants are being turned away from four-year colleges and universities: 75,587 qualified applications were not accepted at schools of nursing last year primarily because of a shortage of faculty and resource constraints. Applications turned away include 58,327 from entry-level BSN, 2,906 from RN-to-BSN, 13,198 from MSN and 1,156 from doctoral programs.

The top reasons reported by nursing schools for not accepting all qualified students into entry-level BSN programs include insufficient clinical teaching sites (65.2%), lack of faculty (62.5%), limited classroom space (46.1%), insufficient preceptors (29.4%) and budget cuts (24.8%). See www.aacn.nche.edu/media-relations/TurnedAway.pdf.

AACN notes that the need to accommodate all qualified applicants in BSN and graduate nursing programs is more pressing given the anticipated demand for nurses. In February, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projected a need for 1.2 million additional nurses within the next eight years to fill new positions and replace those retiring from the profession. “Sustaining federal funding for nursing education is essential to expanding capacity in nursing schools and meeting the nation’s projected demand for nursing care,” Potempa said.