Budget Cuts, Faculty Shortages Limit Number of Nursing Students

Mar 6, 2012, 6:45 PM

The New York Times last week reported on how budget cuts are affecting training programs for careers that rely on skills that are in high demand, including nursing.

“Technical, engineering and health care expertise are among the few skills in huge demand even in today’s lackluster job market,” the story reports. “They are also, unfortunately, some of the most expensive subjects to teach.”

At Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh, N.C., for instance, nursing program applicants far outnumber available slots, forcing more than 1,000 students onto a waiting list. A 21-percent cut in state funding has prevented the school from expanding the program to satisfy demand so, instead, the school created a “pre-nursing” program that applicants must complete to stay on the waiting list. But now even that prerequisite program has a waiting list of more than 400 names. Like many other states, North Carolina faces what the New York Times describes as a “severe nursing shortage.”

Budget cuts aren’t the only reason qualified applicants are being turned away from schools of nursing. There aren’t enough nurse faculty to educate all the nurses the country needs. The Institute of Medicine report, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, recommends doubling the number of nurses with master’s and doctoral degrees by 2020 to add to the pool of potential nurse faculty and researchers.

The New Jersey Nursing Initiative (NJNI), a program of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), is working to increase the number of nurse faculty and transform nursing education in the state. NJNI’s Faculty Preparation Program provides generous benefits and support to nurses interested in becoming nurse faculty in the state, as they pursue their post-graduate degrees.

The Foundation also provides career development support for junior nurse faculty members—often stretched thin at schools with limited faculty slots, and paid less than peers who stay in clinical practice—through the RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholars program. It provides three years of mentorship and leadership training, as well as salary and research support to faculty as they begin their careers in academic nursing.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.