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Data Spotlight: Trends in Graduate Nursing Program Areas of Study

Published August 09, 2022

From 2017 to 2021, the Nurse Practitioner track was the fastest growing area of study in terms of enrollment for both the master’s degree and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs (Table 1). Master’s programs also saw significant increases in the number of students entering programs focused on Community and Public Health, Forensic Nursing, and Informatics, which is welcome news given the growing need for nurses with these specialties.

Over the last five years, Nursing Administration programs had the largest decrease in DNP enrollments and the second largest decrease in master’s degree program enrollments (Table 2). One of the most interesting shifts was the change in programs preparing nurse anesthetists. The Nurse Anesthesia master’s degree programs had the largest decrease in enrollments (n=1623 students) from 2017 to 2021. However, during the last five years, the Nurse Anesthesia DNP programs had the third largest increase in enrollment (Figure 1).

The increase in DNP enrollments and a significant decrease in master’s enrollments in Nurse Anesthesia programs were likely due to calls from the American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology1 and AACN2 for doctoral preparation for entry-level practice for nurse anesthetists. The Council on Accreditation3, which is the accrediting body for Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists programs, has mandated the following: “On January 1, 2022, and thereafter, all students matriculating into an accredited program must be enrolled in a doctoral program.”

 

1American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology. (2007). AANA adopts position on doctoral preparation of Nurse Anesthetists. AANA NewsBulletin, 61(8), 16.

2American Association of Colleges of Nursing. (2004). AACN position statement on the practice doctorate in nursing. www.aacnnursing.org/DNP/Position-Statement.

3Council on Accreditation. (2022). Position Statements: Position statement on doctoral education for Nurse Anesthetists. www.coacrna.org/about-coa/position-statements.

Table 1. 

 Fastest Growing Master's Nursing Major by Enrollment, 2017-2021
  Major % Change Absolute Change
1 Nurse Practitioner 15% 11,651
2 Generalist 41% 1,731
3 Informatics 16% 493
4 Community/Public Health 38% 456
5 Forensic Nursing 99% 246
 Fastest Growing DNP Area of Study by Enrollment, 2017-2021
  Major % Change Absolute Change
1 Nurse Practitioner 41% 6,503
2 Leadership 87% 3,178
3 Nurse Anesthesia 109% 2,634
4 Major Area Not Specified 9% 321
5 Nurse Midwifery 69% 134
* percent change between 2017 enrollment and 2021 enrollment 

Table 2

 Master’s Nursing Majors with Declining Enrollment, 2017-2021
  Major % Change Absolute Change
1 Nurse Anesthesia -69% -1,623
2 Administration -7% -1,253
3 Clincal Nurse Leader (CNL) -38% -1,238
4 Major Not Specified -94% -238
5 Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) -16% -153
DNP Areas of Study with Declining Enrollment, 2017-2021
  Major % Change Absolute Change
1 Administration/Management -49% -784
2 Other Majors -54% -179
3 Community Health/Public Health -32% -60
4 Advanced Practice -6% -47
5 Education -9% -30

Figure 1. Master's and DNP Nurse Anesthesia Enrollment, 2017-2021

Line graph that shows data from 2017-2021 on Master’s and DNP Nurse Anesthesia Enrollment. Master’s data shows decrease in enrollments with the following data points: 2017 - 2,585, 2018 - 2,256, 2019 - 2,016, 2020 - 1,313, and 2021 - 961. DNP data shows an increase in enrollments with the following data points: 2017 - 2,417, 2018 - 3,047, 2019 - 3,868, 2020 - 4,659, and 2021 - 5,051.