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Rounds with Leadership: Watching the Numbers

Published April 25, 2018

Welcome to Rounds with Leadership, a new forum for AACN’s Board Chair and President/CEO to offer commentary on issues and trends impacting academic nursing.

April 25, 2018 -  

Watching the Numbers

As the national voice for academic nursing, AACN plays a leading role in identifying trends and issues impacting the pipeline into professional nursing programs. For more than 40 years, the association has collected data on enrollment and graduations from baccalaureate and higher degree nursing programs as well as data on nursing deans and faculty. This information is used to inform federal and state legislators, researchers, workforce analysts, and other stakeholders about the health of the nursing student population as well as interest in nursing careers.

The results from AACN’s fall 2017 annual survey are now available and indicate that enrollment in registered nursing (RNs) programs continues to be robust, with two notable exceptions. First, the good news:  From 2016 to 2017, significant increases in enrollment were seen in entry-level baccalaureate (4.3%), master’s (5.2%), and Doctor of Nursing Practice (15.0%) programs. The need to advance the education level of the nursing workforce – a key recommendation in the 2010 Institute of Medicine (IOM) report on the Future of Nursing – is now widely embraced by most nursing organizations and patient advocates interested in moving the profession forward. Nursing schools are answering the IOM’s call, and our great progress is showing.

Now for the less-than-good news:  For the third consecutive year, enrollment in PhD programs decreased, this time by 5.2%.  Meeting the IOM’s recommendation to increase the number of nurses with doctorates will require a strong commitment from academic nursing leaders to bringing more students into research-focused doctoral programs. AACN is in the process of convening leaders in PhD-level education to begin the important work needed to identify strategies to reverse this enrollment trend. AACN will also launch a new marketing campaign to generate stronger interest in the PhD and careers in nursing science and education.

Finally, we were surprised to see a slight dip (down 2%) in the number of students entering RN to Baccalaureate programs, following a 15-year period of steady enrollment growth. Completing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree is often the first step to meeting employer expectations and positioning RNs for long-term success.  The research highlighted in the IOM report indicates that nurses with BSN and higher education are better equipped to provide quality patient care. Though a one-year decline does not constitute a trend, AACN will continue to monitor enrollment in BSN completion programs as efforts to advance academic progression in nursing move forward across the nation.

Achieving the IOM report’s recommendations related to education advancement will require innovative solutions and collective action among all parties engaged in the development of future generations of nurses. Now is the time for nurse educators, higher education administrators, employers, legislators, and other stakeholders to act boldly and commit to marshalling resources. We must provide opportunities to enable all nurses to take the next step in their education and formation as leaders, able to advocate for and achieve optimal healthcare delivery.

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