More Nurses Are Advancing Their Education

Survey findings from American Association of Colleges of Nursing show employer preference for hiring new nurses with baccalaureate degrees.

    • January 10, 2013

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) has released preliminary survey data showing that enrollment in all types of professional nursing programs increased from 2011 to 2012, including a 3.5 percent increase in entry-level Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) programs. AACN’s annual survey findings are based on data reported from 664 of the 856 nursing schools in the U.S. with baccalaureate and/or graduate programs. In a separate survey, AACN found a strong hiring preference for new nurses prepared at the baccalaureate level as well as a comparatively high job-placement rate for new BSN nursing graduates.

“AACN is pleased to see across-the-board increases in nursing school enrollments this year given our commitment to encouraging all nurses to advance their education as a catalyst for improving patient care,” said AACN President Jane Kirschling, an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Executive Nurse Fellows program.

The AACN survey shows that the number of students enrolled in baccalaureate degree completion programs, called RN to BSN programs, increased by 22.2 percent from 2011 to 2012. It also shows that enrollment in master’s and doctoral degree nursing programs increased significantly this year. Nursing schools with master’s programs reported an 8.2 percent jump in enrollments. In doctoral nursing programs, the greatest growth was seen in Doctor of Nursing Practice programs where enrollment increased by 19.6 percent from 2011 to 2012.

In addition to its annual survey, AACN collected data on the employment of new graduates from entry-level programs (baccalaureate and master’s) to assess how well these RNs are doing in securing their first jobs in nursing. Conducted for the third consecutive year, the new survey finds that baccalaureate nursing graduates are once again more than twice as likely to have jobs when they graduate as graduates entering the workforce in other fields.

AACN also collected data on entry-level master’s degree programs (MSNs). Graduates from these programs were more likely to have secured jobs at graduation (73% for MSNs vs. 57% for BSNs) and at four to six months after graduating (92% for MSNs vs. 88% for BSNs). These data further illustrate a renewed employer preference for hiring the best educated entry-level nurses.

Again this year, AACN queried nursing schools to find out if hospitals and other employers are expressing a preference for hiring new nurses with bachelor’s degrees. Schools of nursing were asked if employers in their areas were requiring or strongly preferring new hires with baccalaureate degrees. The results show that 39.1 percent of employers require the BSN for new hires, while 77.4 percent strongly prefer BSN-prepared nurses.

“This information is extremely important, and we are grateful to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing for collecting and sharing it,” said Susan B. Hassmiller, RN, PhD, FAAN, RWJF senior adviser for nursing and director of the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action. “We are so pleased to see that more nurses are getting advanced degrees, and we are more committed than ever to increasing capacity at schools of nursing.”

“I know it is not easy to continue your education, as I, too, started with an associate’s degree,” Hassmiller continued. “With community colleges, universities and employers all working together, we can eliminate the bottlenecks that prevent us from preparing the nursing workforce the nation needs. It is tremendously encouraging that this survey confirms that employers are hiring nurses with higher degrees. Academic progression is a key recommendation from the Institute of Medicine report on the future of nursing. This is good for patients and for our health care system.” 

Learn more about the preliminary survey results from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.