New AACN Data Confirms Enrollment Surge in Schools of Nursing

Amid Calls for a More Highly Educated RN Workforce, New AACN Data Confirm Enrollment Surge in Schools of Nursing

WASHINGTON, DC, March 9, 2015 – According to new data released today by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), enrollment in baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral nursing programs increased last year as more nurses answered the call to achieve higher levels of education. With the greatest gains found in baccalaureate degree-completion programs and the practice-focused doctorate, students are returning to nursing school in record numbers to develop the skills needed to meet employer demands and patient care needs.

“AACN applauds the nation’s nursing schools for their efforts to expand student capacity as momentum for advancing the education level of the nursing workforce continues to accelerate,” said AACN President Eileen T. Breslin, PhD, RN, FAAN. “As the national voice for baccalaureate and graduate nursing education, AACN is committed to working with all stakeholders to better prepare registered nurses (RNs) to thrive in all practice settings. We strongly believe that encouraging all nurses to continue their education is in the best interest of patients and the communities we serve.”

AACN, the Tri-Council for Nursing, and other authorities are united in their view that a more highly educated nursing workforce is critical to meeting the nation’s healthcare needs and delivering safe patient care. This shared understanding was clearly reflected in the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) Future of Nursing report, which has garnered widespread support from healthcare leaders in academia and practice. The evidenced-based recommendations in the IOM report call for preparing at least 80% of the RN workforce at the baccalaureate level by 2020 as well as a doubling of the number of nurses with doctorates.

Data from AACN’s fall 2014 survey of baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs found enrollment growth across the board, including a 4.2% increase in students in entry-level baccalaureate programs (BSN) and a 10.4% increase in “RN-to-BSN” programs for registered nurses looking to build on their initial education at the associate degree or diploma level. In graduate schools, student enrollment increased by 6.6% in master’s programs and by 3.2% and 26.2% in research-focused and practice-focused doctoral programs, respectively. Click here to see other key findings from AACN’s Fall 2014 Survey of Nursing Schools.


Impressive Growth in Baccalaureate Degree-Completion Programs

The national drive to enhance the nation’s supply of baccalaureate-prepared nurses is facilitated is by expansion in RN-to-BSN programs, which provide an efficient bridge for nurses looking to continue their education.  These programs build on previous learning, prepare nurses for a higher level of nursing practice, and provide RNs with the education necessary to move forward in their nursing careers.

“This tremendous increase in RN to BSN education comes at a critical time in healthcare reform when more baccalaureate-prepared nurses are needed to fill critical roles across the continuum of care, especially outside of hospital walls,” said Pamela Austin Thompson, MS, RN, CENP, FAAN, National Director for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s (RWJF) Academic Progression in Nursing (APIN) program. “Certainly, the market for the BSN nurse has been stimulated by demand from employers who recognize the important role baccalaureate nurses play in achieving both individual and population health outcomes. We are very proud of the APIN grantees and numerous other state Action Coalitions helping to make this shift possible. Through their implementation of innovative and seamless academic progression models, sustainable infrastructure is being developed around the country that will continue to support nurses in their pursuit of advanced education.” Thompson also serves as Chief Executive Officer of the American Organization of Nurse Executives and Senior Vice President of Nursing for the American Hospital Association.

Since education level has an impact on patient care, hospitals and other nurse employers are moving to hire the best educated entry-level RNs possible. New research published by Drs. David Auerbach, Peter Beurhaus, and Douglas Staiger in the January-February 2015 issue of Nursing Economics found that the percentage of BSN-prepared nurses in acute care hospitals is increasing while the employment of associate degree nurses in these settings is decreasing. Further, AACN’s special survey on the Employment of New Nurse Graduates conducted last fall found that 79.6% of employers are now requiring or expressing a strong preference for nurses with a baccalaureate degree. For more survey findings, see


Expanding Enrollment in Doctoral Nursing Programs

Preparing more nurses in research-focused (PhD, DNS) and practice-focused (DNP) doctoral programs is a priority for the profession given the great need for nurses with the highest level of scientific knowledge and practice expertise to ensure high quality patient outcomes. According to the latest AACN survey, enrollment in PhD programs increased by 3.2% last year while escalating support for the Doctor of Nursing Practice degree generated a 26.2% increase in enrollments during the same timeframe.

“Strengthening the pipeline of nurses entering both research- and practice-focused doctoral programs is critical to meeting the nation’s growing demand for nurse scientists, faculty, expert clinicians, leaders, and innovators,” said Susan B. Hassmiller, PhD, RN, FAAN, Senior Adviser for Nursing with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “It’s gratifying to see that our nation’s nursing schools are significantly expanding enrollment in the DNP programs while a new investment, the RWJF Future of Nursing Scholars program, seeks to also boost enrollment in PhD programs.  Programmatic expansions in both programs will make great headway in meeting the Future of Nursing report’s recommendation to double the number of nurses in the U.S. with doctorates by 2020.”

“Having a robust supply of nurses with advanced education is important to ensuring that nurses are recognized as full partners in transforming health care, shaping public policy, and teaching the next generation of nurses,” added Darlene Curley, MS, RN, FAAN, Executive Director of the Jonas Center for Nursing and Veterans Healthcare. “Through our Jonas Nurse Leaders Scholars program, we are committed to strengthening the nation’s supply of doctorally prepared nursing faculty and advance practice clinicians with an eye toward increasing access to essential nursing services and improving the health of the nation.”

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) is the national voice for university and four-year college education programs in nursing. Representing more than 768 schools of nursing at public and private institutions nationwide, AACN’s educational, research, governmental advocacy, data collection, publications, and other programs work to establish quality standards for nursing education, assist deans and directors to implement those standards, influence the nursing profession to improve health care, and promote public support of baccalaureate and graduate nursing education, research, and practice.

Findings from AACN’s Fall 2014 Survey of Nursing Schools

AACN’s 34th Annual Survey of Institutions with Baccalaureate and Higher Degree Nursing Programs forms the basis for the nation’s premier database on trends in nursing school enrollments and graduations, student and faculty demographics, and faculty and deans’ salaries.

Other key findings from the 2014 survey include the following:

  • Survey Response: AACN’s findings are based on responses from 816 nursing schools (88.6%) in the U.S. and its territories that grant baccalaureate and/or graduate degrees. AACN data reflect actual counts reported in Fall 2014 by nursing schools, not projections or estimates based on past reporting trends.
  • Applications and Acceptance Rate: In the 2014-2015 academic year, 265,954 completed applications were received for entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs (a 1.9% decrease from 2013) with 170,109 meeting admission criteria and 119,428 applications accepted. This translates into an acceptance rate of 44.9%.
  • Total Enrollment: The AACN survey found that total enrollment in all nursing programs leading to the baccalaureate degree is 320,074, an increase from 299,118 in 2013. Within this population, 189,729 students are enrolled in entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs. In graduate programs, 113,788 students are enrolled in master’s programs, 5,290 are enrolled in research-focused doctoral programs, and 18,352 are enrolled in practice-focused doctoral programs in nursing.
  • Total Graduations: In terms of graduations, the AACN survey found that 111,634 students graduated from baccalaureate programs last year, including 63,857 students from entry-level programs and 47,777 students from baccalaureate degree completion programs. In graduate programs, 33,250 students graduated from master’s programs, 743 from research-focused doctorates, and 3,065 from practice-focused doctorates.
  • Qualified Applicants Turned Away: In the 2014-2015 academic year, 68,936 qualified applications to professional nursing programs were turned away, including more than 15,288 applications to master’s and doctoral programs. The top reasons reported by nursing schools for not accepting all qualified students include insufficient clinical teaching sites, a lack of qualified faculty, limited classroom space, insufficient preceptors, and budget cuts.
  • Student Diversity: At all levels, professional-level nursing programs reported increases in the number of students from minority backgrounds over the past year. While the percentage of students from underrepresented backgrounds in entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs increased to 30.1%, the proportion of minority students in master’s programs increased to 31.9%, in research-focused doctoral programs to 29.7%, and in practice-focused doctoral programs to 28.7%. For ten-year data on diversity in nursing education programs, see
  • Men in Nursing: Though men represent only 7.0% of the U.S. nursing workforce, the percentage of men in baccalaureate and master’s nursing programs are 11.7% and 10.8%, respectively. In doctoral programs, 9.6% of students in research-focused programs and 11.7% of students in practice-focused programs are men.
  • Accelerated Programs: Accelerated nursing programs continue to be an important pathway into nursing for individuals with degrees in other fields who are looking to change careers. Currently, 16,935 students are enrolled in the nation’s 293 accelerated baccalaureate programs, which graduated 11,080 students in 2014. In the 62 accelerated (or entry-level) master’s degree programs in nursing now available, 6,219 students are enrolled, and 2,325 students graduated last year. See
  • Degree-Completion Programs: Given the call for nurses to continue their education, AACN was pleased to see growth in degree-completion programs for RNs looking to earn a baccalaureate or master’s degree. From 2013 to 2014, enrollment in RN-to-Baccalaureate programs increased by 10.4%, which marks the 12th year of enrollment increases. Currently, 679 RN-to-Baccalaureate and 209 RN-to-Master’s degree programs are available nationwide, with many offered completely online. In addition, 28 new RN-to-Baccalaureate and 31 new RN-to-Master’s programs are under development. See
  • Clinical Nurse Leader: The national movement to advance the Clinical Nurse Leader® (CNL) role continued this year with 102 CNL programs offered at schools nationwide. Currently, 3,115 students are enrolled in these master’s programs, and 1,190 CNLs graduated last year. For details on the CNL, see
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice Programs: The movement to the DNP continued to accelerate in 2014 with 269 schools now offering the practice doctorate (up from 247 programs in 2013). Last year, enrollment in these programs grew by 26.2%, with 18,352 students enrolled in DNP programs nationwide.
  • Research-Focused Doctoral Programs: The 2014 AACN survey found significant growth in research-focused doctoral programs (i.e., PhD, DNS), which climbed to 134 programs last year.  In 2014, enrollment in PhD nursing programs increased by 3.2% over the previous year with 5,290 students currently enrolled. Since 2004 when the DNP movement began to take shape, enrollment in research-focused doctoral programs has increased by 53.8%.
  • Baccalaureate to Research-Focused Doctoral Programs: One innovative educational pathway that is bringing younger faculty and scientists into nursing is the Baccalaureate to Doctoral program. AACN’s latest survey shows that 79 research-focused Baccalaureate to Doctoral programs are now available with an additional 9 programs under development. See
Complete survey results are compiled in the report 2014-2015 Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing, which will be available soon and can be ordered online at

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