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Enrollment Growth Slows at U.S. Nursing Schools

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By Debra Wood, RN, contributor

January 29, 2014 - Enrollment in entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs continues to increase, but at a slower pace than in years past, with a shortage of faculty and clinical education sites potential barriers to entry, according to preliminary survey data released by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN).

Patrick Coonan: Interest in BSN nursing programs is high but barriers exist.
Patrick R. Coonan, EdD, RN, NEA-BC, FACHE, reported great interest in nursing education but a need for faculty and clinical sites exists.

“Many schools are at capacity,” said Patrick R. Coonan, EdD, RN, NEA-BC, FACHE, dean and professor at the College of Nursing and Public Health at Adelphi University in Garden City, N.Y. “There are issues with clinical rotations as more hospitals close, but we are rethinking where are our students go and what type of experiences they get as well as what they will need going forward.”

Cathy Rozmus, DSN, RN, associate dean of academic affairs at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Nursing, added that her school is currently serving a record number of enrolled students.

Cathy Rozmus: UTHealth nursing program is serving a record number of students.
Cathy Rozmus, DSN, RN, indicated UTHealth is serving a record number of nursing students and estimates that annually at least 100,000 patients will benefit from their skills.

“UTHealth is proactively responding to the need for additional BSN nurses by addressing two major obstacles most nursing schools face--cultivating and retaining qualified faculty and assisting students with clinical placements,” Rozmus said. “UTHealth established an accelerated PhD program in 2010 that will allow UTHealth to increase entry-level nursing school enrollment by 100 students.”

The AACN preliminary data, based on data from 720 of the 858 nursing schools, showed an increase of 2.6 percent from 2012 to 2013, which marks the lowest BSN enrollment increase over the past five years.

That does not necessarily mean fewer perspective students are considering nursing as a career. Preliminary AACN data show that 53,667 qualified applications were turned away from 610 entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs in 2013.

“Interest is still very high to get into the profession,” said Robert Rosseter, spokesman for AACN, adding that 89 percent of BSN graduates obtain jobs within four to six months of graduation.

Rhonda Flenoy-Younger, director of recruitment, outreach and admissions at the UCLA School of Nursing in Los Angeles, reported that the school continues to see an interest in its BSN program, with more than 1,900 freshman applications this year.

Mary Kerr, PhD, RN, FAAN, dean of the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, reported that BSN applications have doubled in the last 10 years, and that the school has increased enrollment from about 70 students to 100 last year, which required adding faculty.

Ora Strickland: Title VIII money may increase nursing school enrollment.
Ora L. Strickland, PhD, RN, FAAN, said Title VIII money should definitely help increase enrollment to address the nursing shortage.

Florida International University (FIU) in Miami has not seen any decline in interest, reported Ora L. Strickland, PhD, DSc (Hon) RN, FAAN, dean of the Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing and Health Sciences at FIU.

“We still have more than five times the qualified applicants for the BSN degree than we can accept into our program due to limited state-funded positions for nursing faculty,” Strickland said. “Some applicants are becoming frustrated due to lack of available student slots in BSN programs.”

To meet demand, the college has started a “Medic-to-RN” program to educate Army and Air Force medics and Navy corpsmen to obtain a BSN in three semesters, and an accelerated BSN program that also will graduate new RNs within three semesters.

Coonan also reports freshman applications up 14 percent and a 13 percent increase in transfer applications.

“I think maybe nationally there may be a decline in BS enrollments as more students are doing two years at community colleges then transferring because of cost, at least on the private side,” Coonan said.

Mary Lou Brunell, RN, MSN, executive director of the Florida Center for Nursing in Orlando, reported an increase in nursing school graduates in that state, primarily from associate-degree programs.

The University of Maryland School of Nursing in Baltimore’s application pool for the traditional prelicensure BSN program has remained robust for the last several years, and applicants for its RN-to-BSN option have increased. The Institute of Medicine “Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health” report recommended 80 percent of nurses should be BSN-prepared by 2020.

Janice Hoffman: Robust interest in baccalaureate nursing programs at UM.
Janice J. Hoffman, PhD, RN, ANEF, reported robust student interest in the University of Maryland’s BSN programs.

“We are currently revising and enhancing our RN-to-BSN option, so we can admit more students,” said Janice J. Hoffman, PhD, RN, ANEF, assistant professor and assistant dean for the bachelor of science in nursing program at the University of Maryland School of Nursing. “The only way we will get to the 80 percent BSN is through increasing traditional BSNs and also increasing the pipeline for RNs to get a bachelor’s degree.”

The AACN survey found that enrollments in RN-to-BSN programs increased by 12.4 percent last year.

Additional federal dollars may help. In the final omnibus spending bill for fiscal year 2014, Congress included additional money for six Title VIII nursing programs--$224.8 million, up from $217.5 million in fiscal year 2013. The programs aim to expand enrollment and retention in pre-licensure nursing programs, support the education of advanced practice registered nurses, and/or grow the ranks of nurse faculty.

“One of the stronger pieces of this funding is the consistent focus on graduate programs, particularly to help us address the faculty shortage,” Hoffman said. “If we have more master’s and doctoral-prepared nurses, that increases the potential faculty pool.”

The AACN preliminary data also showed a 4.4 percent increase in enrollment to master’s programs and a 21.6 percent jump in doctor of nursing practice (DNP) programs. Twenty-four new DNP programs opened.

Case Western established the nation's first practice doctorate in nursing in 1979, then known as the ND, and has seen growth in that executive-style program, with intensive in-person didactics and online coursework.

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