Nursing School Enrollment Increases

Melanie R. Margolis

On December 20, 2001, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) released the results of an annual survey of the enrollments in entry-level baccalaureate programs in nursing. According to survey results, enrollments in entry-level baccalaureate programs were up 3.7% in the fall of 2001 compared to the fall of 2000. This increase is good news given the current nursing shortage in the U.S. See Can We Hire You? A Look at Nurse Shortages and a Hospitalís Ability to Counteract the Loss of Workers at MedicalProfessionals/011107CanWe.html. The increase marks the end of a downward trend in nursing school enrollments. Unfortunately, the number of nursing students remains insufficient to meet the projected demand for a million new nurses over the next decade. See http://www.aacn.nche.edu/Media/NewsReleases/enrl01.htm.

AACN findings are based on responses from a total of 548 (80.8%) of the nation's nursing schools with bachelor's and graduate degree programs that were surveyed in the fall. The survey found that total enrollments in all nursing programs leading to the baccalaureate degree was 106,557 in 2001. By comparison, the total enrollments in 1995 was 127,683 for all baccalaureate programs. For additional information, see http://www.aacn.nche.edu/Media/NewsReleases/enrl01.htm.

Data show that nursing school enrollments are up in all regions of the United States with the greatest increase realized in the South with a 4% rise in enrollments in entry-level baccalaureate programs. Other regions reported the following increases from fall 2000 to fall 2001: North Atlantic schools were up by 3.5%; Midwest schools were up by 3.5%; and schools in the West were up by 3.4%.

Enrollments in graduate and higher degree programs in nursing are managing to hang on at current levels with master's degree programs down 0.1% and doctoral programs up 1.5% from 2000 to 2001. On the other hand, post-doctoral programs saw an enormous increase of 39.2% (from 51 to 71 students).

AACN attributes the increase in enrollment in part to the following:

In Texas, for example, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 572, which was signed into law by the governor on June 17, 2001. The new law instituted a professional nursing shortage reduction program that will make grants to professional nursing programs and other entities involved with professional nursing programs in the preparation of students for initial licensure as registered nurses in order to increase the number and types of registered nurses to meet the needs for registered nurses in Texas.

The new law also created a matching fund program under which employers can sponsor a professional nursing student or a vocational nursing student by contributing to the costs of the student's education and having that contribution matched by state funds. In addition, provisions of the new law address increasing nursing faculty and create a nursing workforce data center. With state legislatures taking action, perhaps nursing school enrollment will continue to rise.

01/31/02