Nursing schools struggle to sustain enrollment, new data show: 4 notes

Enrollment in BSN programs at nursing schools across the U.S. held steady in 2023, though fewer students are entering in master's and PhD programs, according to new data from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. 

The AACN conducts a national survey of nursing schools with baccalaureate and higher degrees on an annual basis. The latest data was published April 15 and is based on findings from a survey conducted in the fall of 2023, for which 975 nursing schools provided response. 

Four updates on nursing enrollment, per the report: 

  • From 2022 to 2023, enrollment in entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs increased 0.3%, or by 825 students — a welcome trend after the AACN reported a decrease in such programs from 2021 to 2022, ending a 20-year streak of enrollment growth. 

  • The number of students in RN to BSN degree-completion programs fell nearly 10%, or by 9,774 students, marking the fifth straight year of significant decline. The AACN said it is exploring what may be driving the decline after a rapid increase in bridge programs from 2002 to 2018. 

  • Enrollment in masters and PhD programs also fell by 1% and 3.1%, respectively. PhD program enrollment has been on a downward trend for a decade, stirring concern among the academic nursing community. 

  • The number of students in DNP programs grew 2%, marking 20 consecutive years of enrollment expansion. The AACN said it is looking into whether the steady enrollment growth in the doctorate practice has influenced student demand in master's programs. 

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