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Nursing Enrollments

Nursing Schools Rejected 30,000 Qualified Applicants

Nursing Articles With Enrollments Rising for the 5th Consecutive Year, U.S.

Nursing Schools Turn Away More Than 30,000 Qualified Applications in 2005: Enrollment Increase Falls Far Short of Meeting The Projected Demand For RNs

WASHINGTON, D.C., December 12, 2005 – The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) released preliminary survey data today which show that enrollment in entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs increased by 13.0 percent from 2004 to 2005. Though this increase is welcome, surveyed nursing colleges and universities denied 32,617 qualified applications due primarily to a shortage of nurse educators. AACN is very concerned about the increasing number of qualified students being turned away from nursing programs each year since the federal government is projecting a shortfall of 800,000 registered nurses (RNs) by the year 2020.

“With the nation’s health care system calling for more baccalaureate-prepared nurses in the workforce, AACN is pleased to see that the trend toward enrollment increases has continued for the fifth consecutive year, ” said AACN President Jean E. Bartels. “Despite the successful efforts of schools nationwide to expand student capacity, our nations nursing schools are falling far short of meeting the current and projected demand for RNs. ” According to research conducted by Dr. Peter Buerhaus from Vanderbilt University, enrollments in nursing programs would have to increase by at least 40 percent annually to replace those nurses expected to leave the workforce through retirement.

AACN’s annual survey is the only resource for actual (versus projected) data on enrollment and graduations reported by the nation’s baccalaureate and graduate degree programs in nursing. This year’s 13.0 percent increase in enrollments is based on data supplied by the same 408 schools reporting in both 2004 and 2005. This is the fifth consecutive year of enrollment increases with 14.1, 16.6, 8.1, and 3.7 percent increases in 2004, 2003, 2002, and 2001, respectively. Prior to the five-year upswing, baccalaureate nursing programs experienced six years of declining enrollments from 1995 through 2000. For a graphic depiction of enrollment changes in baccalaureate nursing programs from 1994-2005, see

The AACN survey also found that the number of graduates from entry-level baccalaureate programs increased by 19.1 percent from 2004 to 2005. This data is based on information supplied by the same 393 schools reporting for the past two years. The recent rise in graduations follows 14, 4.3 and 3.2 percent increases in the number of graduates in 2004, 2003 and 2002, respectively. This upward trend was preceded by a six-year period of graduation declines from 1996 through 2001.

AACN’s latest data confirm that interest in nursing careers continues to grow, which is good news considering the projected demand for nursing care. Last year, the U.S. Department of Labor identified Registered Nursing as the top occupation in terms of job growth through the year 2012. According to the latest projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than one million new and replacement nurses will be needed by 2012.

Given the demands of today’s health care system, the greatest need in the nursing workforce is for nurses prepared at the baccalaureate and higher degree levels. With the federal Health Resources and Services Administration calling for baccalaureate preparation for at least two thirds of the nursing workforce, the evidence clearly shows that higher levels of nursing education are linked with lower patient mortality rates, fewer errors, and greater job satisfaction among RNs. Nurse executives, federal agencies, the military, leading nursing organizations, health care foundations, magnet hospitals, and minority nurse advocacy groups all recognize the unique value that baccalaureate-prepared nurses bring to the practice setting and their contribution to quality nursing care.

“AACN is committed to working with the health care community to create a highly educated nursing workforce able to meet the challenges of contemporary nursing practice,” added Dr. Bartels. “We strongly believe that encouraging all nurses to advance their education is in the best interest of patients and an important step toward enhancing patient safety.”

The robust interest in professional nursing can be attributed in part to successful outreach efforts guided by nursing schools nationwide. Strategies employed to increase student capacity this year included forming alliances with hospitals, the business community and other stakeholders to address faculty and clinical space constraints. Some schools have expanded or opened new accelerated programs for second-degree seekers looking to transition into nursing while others have taken advantage of state and federal funding aimed at strengthening the nursing workforce. In addition to these school-based initiatives, both Johnson & Johnson and the Nurses for a Healthier Tomorrow coalition continued their national media campaigns to encourage careers in nursing.

Qualified Students Turned Away Despite Nursing Shortage

Though interest in nursing careers is strong, access to professional nursing education is becoming more difficult. AACN’s preliminary findings show that 32,617 qualified applications to entry-level baccalaureate programs were not accepted in 2005 based on responses from 432 schools. The number of qualified students turned away each year from these programs continues to increase with 29,425, 15,944 and 3,600 students turned award in 2004, 2003 and 2002, respectively. The primary barriers to accepting all qualified students at nursing colleges and universities continue to be insufficient faculty, clinical placement sites, and classroom space.

To address these issues, AACN has focused its advocacy efforts on increasing funding for existing Nursing Workforce Development programs administered by the federal Division of Nursing and shaping new legislation to support faculty development and enrollment growth. Earlier this year, AACN secured a new funding stream for doctoral nursing education through the Department of Education’s Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) program, which will help to address the faculty shortage. AACN successfully lobbied to have nursing identified as an area of national need for the first time through the GAANN program.

Further, AACN has worked with colleagues in the health care community to introduce new legislation to address the faculty shortage and other nursing school resource constraints, including the Nurse Education, Expansion and Development Act and the Nurse Faculty Education Act. Without increased federal support, the potential for future growth in nursing education programs may be limited at a time when the demand for well-educated nurses is rising.

“To stabilize the nursing workforce, the federal government and other stakeholders must focus on increasing nursing school enrollments at the baccalaureate level,” said AACN Executive Director Geraldine “Polly” Bednash. “Besides adding to the RN workforce, graduates of baccalaureate nursing programs are much more likely to pursue graduate education and achieve the credentials needed to serve as nurse educators. Efforts to address the nursing shortage will fail unless decisive action is taken to resolve the underlying shortage of nurse faculty.”

About the AACN Survey

Now in its 25th year, AACN’s Annual Survey of Institutions with Baccalaureate and Higher Degree Nursing Programs is conducted each year by the association’s Data and Research Center. Information from the survey forms the basis for the nation’s premier database on trends in enrollments and graduations, student and faculty demographics, and faculty and deans’ salaries. AACN data reflects actual counts reported in fall 2005 by nursing schools, not projections or estimates based on past reporting.

The annual AACN survey is a collaborative effort with data on nurse practitioner programs collected jointly with the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties and data on clinical nurse specialist programs collected with the National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists. Complete survey results are compiled in three separate reports, which will be available in February 2006:

  • 2005-2006 Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing
  • 2005-2006 Salaries of Instructional and Administrative Nursing Faculty in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing
  • 2005-2006 Salaries of Deans in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing

Editor’s Note: News media may obtain selected tables from these data reports by contacting Robert Rosseter at or 202-463-6930, extension 231. Requests for regional data and local enrollment success stories are also welcome.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing is the national voice for university and four-year-college education programs in nursing. Representing more than 585 member schools of nursing at public and private institutions nationwide, AACN’s educational, research, governmental advocacy, data collection, publications, and other programs work to establish quality standards for bachelor’s- and graduate-degree nursing education, assist deans and directors to implement those standards, influence the nursing profession to improve health care, and promote public support of baccalaureate and graduate nursing education, research, and practice. Web site:

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