Obama Administration Recommends Freeze on Federal Nurse Education Programs

    • February 25, 2010

For consumer and nurse education advocates, 2010 is getting off to a slow start.

The year began as efforts to overhaul the nation’s health care system—and provide the first-ever permanent stream of funding for nurse education programs—appeared uncertain. Then, in early February, the Obama administration proposed a budget that would freeze the main source of federal funding for nurse education programs.

The administration is now attempting to revitalize support for health care reform, and advocates are still working to ensure that nurse education programs will get the kind of significant boost this year that they had hoped for last year.

Winifred Quinn, M.A., Ph.D., senior legislative representative at AARP and the Center to Champion Nursing in America, an initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), AARP and the AARP Foundation, said the funding is critical.

Nursing education programs, she said, need more money now to hire more faculty so schools can accept more applicants.

Preparing more nurses is a key way to ensure that the nation has the highly skilled nursing workforce it needs to meet Americans’ health care needs. More money is also needed to help curb the looming nursing shortage, which threatens to undermine the quality of patient care. Educating more nurses will help fill existing vacancies, Quinn said, and that will help lower the nation’s high unemployment rate.

Nurse Advocates Glad Administration Doesn’t Want to Cut Nurse Education

Still, consumer and nurse advocates are grateful that, in the current climate of fiscal restraint, the administration did not propose to cut spending on the nursing workforce development programs under Title VIII of the Public Health Service Act, the primary source of federal funding for nurse education programs. Last year, Congress set aside $244 million for Title VIII programs, a 43 percent boost over the $171 million approved in the previous fiscal year. Nurse education programs also got a boost last year under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the president’s economic stimulus plan.

“President Obama has demonstrated a continued dedication to nursing education and research at a time when the economic reality adds significance to even the smallest increases,” said Fay Raines, president of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). “Over the last two years, the administration and Congress have emphasized the value of nursing care and its central role in the health system.”

Suzanne Begeny, Ph.D, R.N., director of government affairs at AACN, added that “the need for more funding is still out there.”

As the appropriations season gets under way, the AARP will ask for a 15 percent increase in Title VIII funding in fiscal 2011, Quinn said.

Advocates want the extra funding for faculty loan repayment programs, which they believe will entice more nurses to leave the bedside and enter academia, where salaries are generally lower than they are in clinical settings. More money is also needed to help advanced practice students attend school on a full-time basis, which will enable students to fill existing openings more quickly.

At the same time, advocates are still hoping that Congress enacts legislation this year that would reform the health care system. “We had a lot of hope about what health reform would do in terms of assuring for nursing capacity and building the professional nursing workforce that’s needed,” Quinn said. “Hopefully we’ll still see that.”