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

WASHINGTON--()--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 is read 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 member 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 bachelor's- and graduate-degree 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.


American Association of Colleges of Nursing
Robert Rosseter, 202-463-6930, x231

Release Summary

According to new data released today by AACN enrollment in baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral nursing programs increased last year as more nurses answered the call to achieve higher levels of...


American Association of Colleges of Nursing
Robert Rosseter, 202-463-6930, x231