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DiversityNursing Blog

Nursing education enrollment keeps rising in 2012

Posted by Alycia Sullivan

Thu, Jan 03, 2013 @ 01:41 PM News

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing has released preliminary survey data showing that enrollment in all types of professional nursing programs increased from 2011 to 2012, including a 3.5% increase in entry-level BSN programs. 

The AACN’s annual survey findings are based on data reported from 664 of the 856 nursing schools in the U.S. with baccalaureate and/or graduate programs (a 77.6% response rate). In a separate survey, the AACN found a strong hiring preference for new nurses prepared at the baccalaureate level, and a comparatively high job-placement rate for new BSN graduates.

"AACN is pleased to see across-the-board increases in nursing school enrollments this year given our commitment to encouraging all nurses to advance their education as a catalyst for improving patient care," AACN President Jane Kirschling, RN, PhD, FAAN, said in a news release.

Baccalaureate nursing education

The AACN said its annual survey is the most reliable source for actual — as opposed to projected — data on enrollment and graduations reported by the nation’s baccalaureate- and graduate-degree programs in nursing. This year’s 3.5% enrollment increase for entry-level baccalaureate programs is based on data supplied by the same 539 schools reporting in both 2011 and 2012 (see for year-by-year enrollment changes in baccalaureate nursing education from 1994 to 2012).

Among the most noteworthy findings, the number of students enrolled in RN-to-BSN programs increased by 22.2% from 2011 to 2012 (471 schools reporting). This year marks the 10th year of enrollment increases in these programs, signaling a growing interest among nurses and employers for baccalaureate-prepared nurses, the AACN noted. 

Stakeholders inside and outside the nursing profession — including the Institute of Medicine, Tri-Council for Nursing, National Advisory Council for Nursing Education and Practice, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and many others — are calling for higher levels of academic progression in nursing.

Graduate nursing programs

Preliminary data from the AACN’s 2012 survey show that enrollment in master’s and doctoral degree nursing programs increased significantly this year. Nursing schools with master’s programs reported an 8.2% jump in enrollment, with 432 institutions reporting data. In doctoral nursing programs, the greatest growth was seen in DNP programs, where enrollment increased by 19.6% (166 schools reporting) from 2011 to 2012. 

During this same time period, enrollment in research-focused doctoral programs (PhD, DNS) edged up by 1.3% (96 schools reporting), even though 195 qualified applicants were turned away from these programs, based on preliminary findings.

"Momentum is clearly building for advancing nursing education at all levels," Kirschling said. "Given the calls for more baccalaureate- and graduate-prepared nurses, federal and private funding for nursing education should be targeted directly to the schools and programs that prepare students at these levels.

"Further, achieving the Institute of Medicine’s recommendations related to education [calling for 80% of nurses to have BSNs by 2020] will require strong academic-practice partnerships and a solid commitment among our practice colleagues to encouraging and rewarding registered nurses committed to moving ahead with their education."

Turned away

Although interest in nursing careers remains strong, many individuals seeking to enter the profession cannot be accommodated in nursing programs, despite meeting all program entrance requirements. Preliminary AACN data show that 52,212 qualified applications were turned away from 566 entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs in 2012. The AACN expects this number to increase when final data on qualified applications turned away in the fall of 2012 are available next March. 

The primary barriers to accepting all qualified students at nursing colleges and universities continue to be a shortage of clinical placement sites, faculty and funding, according to the AACN (see for information about the number of qualified applicants turned away from entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs over the past 10 years).

Hiring preferences

In addition to its annual survey, the AACN has collected data on the employment of new graduates from entry-level baccalaureate and master’s programs to assess how these RNs fare in securing their first jobs in nursing. 

Conducted for the third consecutive year, survey findings show baccalaureate nursing graduates remain more than twice as likely to have jobs at the time of graduation as those entering the workforce in other fields. While the employment rate at graduation increased slightly, from 56% in 2011 to 57% in 2012 for BSN students, the employment rate at four to six months after graduation was identical over the two-year period (88%). By comparison, the National Association of Colleges and Employers conducted a national survey of 50,000 new college graduates across disciplines and found that only 25.5% of new graduates in 2011 had a job offer at the time of graduation.

The AACN also collected data on entry-level MSN programs, which remain a popular pathway into nursing for those transitioning into nursing with degrees in other fields. Graduates from these programs were most likely to have secured jobs at graduation (73% for MSNs vs. 57% for BSNs) and at four to six months after graduation (92% for MSNs vs. 88% for BSNs). These data further illustrate a renewed employer preference for hiring the best educated entry-level nurse possible. 

Once again this year, the AACN queried nursing schools about whether hospitals and other employers express a preference for hiring new nurses with a bachelor’s degree. A significant body of research shows that nurses with baccalaureate level preparation are linked to better patient outcomes, including lower mortality and failure-to-rescue rates, according to the news release. With the Institute of Medicine calling for 80% of the nursing workforce to hold at least a bachelor’s degree by 2020, moving to prepare nurses at this level has become a national priority. 

In terms of this year’s survey, schools of nursing were asked whether employers in their area were requiring or strongly preferring new hires with baccalaureate degrees, with the findings showing that 39.1% of employers require the BSN for new hires while 77.4% strongly prefer BSN-prepared nurses.


To download the complete research brief on the "Employment of New Nurse Graduates and Employer Preferences for Baccalaureate-Prepared Nurses," visit

The AACN works on several fronts to enhance the number of baccalaureate-prepared nurses in the workforce, including:

• Working collaboratively with leaders from associate degree programs and the community college arena to encourage academic progression in nursing (see

• Partnering with the National Organization for Associate Degree Nurses to disseminate a new brochure titled "Taking the Next Step in Your Nursing Education" (see

• Advancing the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s "Academic Progression in Nursing" initiative as part of the Tri-Council for Nursing, which is focused on implementing state and regional strategies to create a more highly educated nursing workforce (see

• Joining with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to enhance diversity in the nursing workforce through the "New Careers in Nursing" program, which provides financial support and guidance to students from under-represented groups enrolled in accelerated nursing programs ( 

Topics: 2012, enrollment, rise, education, nurse, college

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