Enrollment Growth Continues at Baccalaureate and Graduate Level Nursing Schools

    • April 20, 2011

Enrollment in baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral nursing programs continued its upward trend in 2010, according to newly released survey data from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN).

The data show that enrollment in doctoral nursing programs increased sharply. More than 7,000 students across the nation were enrolled in Doctor of Nursing Practice (D.N.P.) programs at the beginning of the current school year, reflecting a 35 percent increase over last year, and another 434 students were enrolled in research-focused nursing programs that award Ph.D. or D.N.S. (Doctoral Nursing Science) degrees. AACN noted that one important factor in these gains is the rapid increase in the number of schools offering such degrees. In 2006, AACN counted 20 programs offering D.N.P. degrees; today, 153 such programs are in operation, with 106 more programs in the planning stage. The Institute of Medicine’s landmark report, “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health,” called for doubling the number of nurses with doctorates by 2020.

“Bringing more nurses into master’s and doctoral nursing programs must be a priority given the critical need for nurses to serve as scientists, faculty, primary care providers, specialists and leaders within the health care system,” said AACN President Kathleen Potempa in releasing the data. “In response to calls for a more highly educated nursing workforce, our nation’s nursing schools are taking decisive action to expand programs that prepare expert nurses to deliver high quality, cost-effective care in a healthcare system undergoing reform.”

Enrollment in baccalaureate programs increased, as well, up by 5.7 percent. That marked the 10th consecutive year in which enrollment had increased at the baccalaureate level, and the second year in a row in which the rate of increase accelerated.

Qualified Applications Rejected for Lack of Capacity

Despite the increases in enrollment, AACN found that more than 67,000 qualified applications to professional nursing programs were turned away in 2010. That included more than 11,000 applications to graduate programs. In all, 242,013 completed applications were received for entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs with 151,662 meeting admission criteria and 96,976 applications accepted—an acceptance rate of 40 percent.

Nursing programs cited a variety of reasons for rejecting qualified applicants, with the most common reasons centering on a lack of capacity. Insufficient clinical teaching sites topped the list of barriers, cited by 65 percent of respondents. A lack of faculty was next with 62 percent, and limited classroom space followed, cited by 48 percent.

Other findings from the new AACN survey:

  • Total Enrollment. Total enrollment in all nursing programs leading to a baccalaureate degree is 238,799 students, an 11 percent increase from 2009. At the graduate level, 86,746 students are enrolled in master’s programs, 4,611 are enrolled in research-focused doctoral programs and 7,034 are enrolled in practice-focused doctoral programs in nursing.
  • Total Graduations. In all, the survey found that 73,570 students graduated from baccalaureate nursing programs last year, while 21,730 students graduated from master’s programs, 533 from research-focused doctoral programs and 1,282 from practice-focused doctoral programs.
  • Student Diversity. At all levels, professional-level nursing programs reported increases in the number of students from minority backgrounds over the past year, with minority students accounting for 26.6 percent of baccalaureate enrollment, 26.3 percent of master’s enrollment, 23.3 percent of research-focused doctoral programs and 21.3 percent of practice-focused programs. While men currently represent just 6.6 percent of the nursing workforce, they account for 11.4 percent of nursing students in baccalaureate programs, 9.5 percent of those in master’s programs, 7.5 percent of those in research-focused doctoral programs and 9.0 percent of students in practice-focused doctoral programs.
  • Degree-Completion Programs. The survey revealed significant enrollment growth in degree-completion programs—those for R.N.s looking to earn a baccalaureate or master’s degree. From 2009 to 2010, enrollment in R.N.-to-baccalaureate programs increased by 21.6 percent, the eighth year of enrollment increases. AACN counted 633 R.N.-to-baccalaureate and 173 R.N.-to-Master's Degree programs nationwide, with many programs offered completely online. More such programs are in development.

AACN’s data are based on survey responses from 706 nursing schools, 88.1 percent of all baccalaureate-granting and graduate-degree-granting nursing schools in the United States and its territories.