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Data Spotlight: A Closer Look at Private Nursing Schools

Published July 19, 2021

While often useful to group all private institutions together, private/secular, and private/religious nursing schools vary considerably in their geographic distribution, average enrollment, student to faculty ratio, and faculty characteristics. 

Religious and secular private schools are not evenly spread across the U.S. In the Midwest 49% of schools are religious, while in the South 32% of all schools are religious, and 15% are private/secular (Figure 1). 

First Data map of the US shows percent of regions' nursing school that are private / religious - Western states show 24% (n=36), Mid-western states show 48.6% (n=139), Southern states show 31.5% (n=119), Eastern states show 29.9% (n=67). Second data map of the US shows percent of regions' nursing schools that are private/secular. Western states shows 28.7% (n=43), Midwestern states show 21% (n=60), Southern states show 15.6% (n=59), and Eastern states show 34.4% (n=77).

Average enrollment, at all program levels, is significantly smaller at religious schools than private/secular schools (Figure 2). Some of the nursing schools with the largest total enrollments are private/secular, and 98.5% of for-profit schools are private/secular.*

Figure 2. Fall 2020 Average Program Enrollments at Private Institutions 

Bar graph data show fall 2020's average program enrollments at private institutions. Average student enrollments for general baccalaureate programs shows 229 for religious and 472 for secular, RN to baccalaureate programs show 68 for religious and 356 for secular. Master's is 146 for religious and 556 for secular. Research doctoral shows 46 for religious and 34 for secular. DNP shows 72 for religious and 144 for secular. Total average student enrollment for religious is 363 and secular is 990.

AACN calculates an approximate student to faculty ratio at each school using information from the 916 schools that contributed faculty data to the latest 2020-2021 AACN survey. This ratio is the total students enrolled at each program level - baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral - over the number of full-time nurse faculty that report teaching at the given program level. Taking the mean of these ratios at private/religious and private/secular schools provides an estimated national average student to full-time faculty ratios. Private/religious schools have the smallest student to full-time faculty ratios while private/secular schools have the highest ratios, well above religious or public schools (Figure 3). 

Figure 3. Average Student to Full-Time Nurse Faculty Ratio by Program Level, by Institutional Control

Bar graph data showing average student to full-time nurse faculty ratio by program level, by institutional control. For Baccalaureate programs, school's average student to faculty ratio is 20:1 for private religious, 33:1 for private secular, and 24:1 for public. For Master's programs, 16:1 for private religious, 35:1 for private secular, and 11:1 for public. For doctoral programs, 10:1 for private religious, 20:1 for private secular, and 8:1 for public.

The faculty characteristics are different in religious and private/secular schools. Full-time nurse faculty at private/secular schools are the most racially diverse with 23.2% of faculty from underrepresented groups in nursing compared to 13.8% of faculty at religious schools. 

Figure 4. Percent of Full-Time Nurse Faculty that are Doctorall Prepared, Racial Minorities, Tenured/Tenure Track, by Institutional Control

Bar graph shows percent of full-time nurse faculty that are doctorally prepared, racial minorities, tenured/tenure track, by institutional control. Data for faculty who hold a doctoral degree at private religious is 54%, private secular 50.6%, and public 63.7%; Faculty from Racial/Ethnic Minority background at private religious 13.8%, private secular 23.2%, and public 18.8%; and Faculty that are tenured/tenure track for private religious 35.6%, private secular 13.5%, and public 40%.

In the private/secular schools, 13.5% of faculty are tenured or tenure track. Finally, a slightly lower percentage, 50.6%, of full-time faculty at private/secular schools have a doctoral degree, compared to 54% at religious schools and 63% at public schools (Figure 4). 

*Enrollment data from the 956 institutions that responded to the enrollment and graduation portion of the 2020-2021 AACN Annual Survey.