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Nursing enrollment continues to grow at weak pace: survey

Posted: December 3, 2008 - 5:00 pm ET

Undergraduate nursing programs continued to show a slowdown in the growth of newly admitted students at a time when observers say more young nurses are needed to take over for retirees and to care for an aging population.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing reports in its fall survey that in 2008 baccalaureate nursing programs admitted only 2% more students than in the year beforeóthe smallest annual increase since 2001. Between 1995 and 2000, nursing colleges posted overall declines in the number of new students admitted, followed by a spike in growth of 16.6% in 2003 and declines in every year since, according to survey.

Association President Fay Raines said in a news release that the statistics are a sign that nursing colleges may have reached their enrollment capacity with existing faculties. Despite calls to graduate more new nurses, college administrators say a shortage of nursing instructors is preventing them from accepting more new students.

Large numbers of students are still applying at nursing programs. Colleges reported turning away 27,771 qualified applicants from entry-level nursing programs in 2008, but that was a significant drop from the record 38,415 who were turned away in 2006. Raines interpreted the decrease as a signal that many students are becoming frustrated at enrollment difficulties and are turning to other careers.

Meanwhile, the association noted stagnating growth rates in the number of new enrollments and graduations from masters-level nursing programs. New masterís degree enrollments grew by 8.7% in 2008, less than half the growth rate in 2006, while the 10.6% growth in masterís graduations was comparable to 2007 and 2006. -- by Joe Carlson

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