Nursing & Healthcare News

Nursing School Numbers Up

Applications and enrollment rose in 2020–21 despite the pandemic

Nursing student in isolation gown and mask is listening with stethoscope to a male simulation patient

We’ve been hearing for months that the pandemic could lead to massive nursing attrition, but recent data from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) shows that nursing program applications and enrollment actually increased during the crisis.

Plenty of Students, Strong Interest

Each year, the AACN Department of Research and Data Services surveys institutions with baccalaureate and higher degreed nursing programs about program enrollment and applications. The most recent survey, covering the 2020–21 school year, offers some encouraging signs for the country’s post-COVID-19 nursing workforce.

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In all categories, from entry-level bachelor’s to DNP programs, 2020–21 applications were actually up from 2019–2020, despite the fear and uncertainty of the pandemic. More current RNs also decided to advance their education: RN-to-baccalaureate program applications were up 8.9 percent.

Doctoral programs saw the biggest increases, with DNP program applications up 14.0 percent and research-focused doctorate programs seeing a 24.3 percent increase in applications. In the 2020–21 school year, the 956 institutions that responded to the AACN survey had more than 580,000 enrolled students and almost 139,000 new graduates.

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More Faculty Needed

With robust application and enrollment numbers, the biggest obstacle for nursing education could be the availability of qualified nursing faculty.

A separate AACN survey conducted in September 2021 found that 61.6 percent of responding schools (576 of 935 institutions) had fulltime faculty vacancies. An additional 12.6 percent (118 schools) said they need more fulltime faculty despite having no current vacancies. The overall fulltime faculty vacancy rate in 2021 was 8.0 percent, up from 6.5 percent in 2020.

Respondents said money is a major recruitment issue. Many schools said they lack the funds to add more fulltime positions or offer competitive salaries to attract faculty with the necessary advanced degrees and the right specialty mix.

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