New AACN Data on Nursing Enrollments and Employment of BSN Graduates

Press Release
For Immediate Release

New AACN Data Show Significant Enrollment Increases in Baccalaureate, Master’s, and Doctoral Nursing Degree Programs

Supplemental Survey Found a Strong Employer Preference for Hiring New Nurses with Baccalaureate Level Education

WASHINGTON, D.C., December 6, 2011 – Today, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) released preliminary survey data showing that enrollment in all types of professional registered nursing (RN) programs increased from 2010 to 2011, including a 3.9% increase in entry-level Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree programs. AACN’s annual survey findings are based on data reported from 647 of the 840 nursing schools in the U.S. (77% response rate) with baccalaureate and/or graduate programs. In a separate survey, AACN also found a strong hiring preference for new nurses prepared at the baccalaureate level as well as a comparatively high job-placement rate for new BSN graduates.

“With the Institute of Medicine and other leading authorities calling for significant increases in the number of nurses with baccalaureate and graduate degrees, moving to prepare a more highly educated nursing workforce has become a national priority,” said AACN President Kathleen Potempa. “AACN is pleased to see robust interest in baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral nursing programs, despite deep budget cuts and resource constraints facing many schools of nursing, which may impede future growth.”


AACN’s annual survey is the most reliable source for actual (versus projected) data on enrollment and graduations reported by the nation’s baccalaureate- and graduate-degree programs in nursing. This year’s 3.9% enrollment increase for entry-level baccalaureate programs is based on data supplied by the same 540 schools reporting in both 2010 and 2011. To download a graphic depicting enrollment changes in baccalaureate nursing programs from 1994-2011, see

The AACN survey also found that the number of students enrolled in baccalaureate degree completion programs – called RN to BSN programs – increased by 13.4% from 2010 to 2011 (456 schools reporting). This year marks the 9th year of enrollment increases in these programs, which signals a growing interest among nurses and employers for baccalaureate-prepared nurses. Looking ahead, AACN will work collaboratively with stakeholders to ensure that enrollment in both baccalaureate and master’s level degree completion programs for RNs expands even further to meet the recommendations outlined in the Future of Nursing report published by the Institute of Medicine last year (see


Preliminary data from AACN’s Fall 2011 survey show that enrollment in master’s and doctoral degree nursing programs increased significantly this year. Nursing schools with master’s programs reported a 7.6% jump in enrollments (423 schools reporting) and a 10.5% increase in graduations (383 schools reporting). In doctoral nursing programs, the greatest growth was seen in Doctor of Nursing Practice programs where enrollment increased by 20.6% (135 schools reporting) from 2010 to 2011. During this same time period, enrollment in research-focused doctoral programs (PhD, DNS) increased by 6.6% while the number of program graduates was up by 8.9% (93 schools reporting).

“Despite recent reports from the National Science Foundation that the number of earned doctorates across disciplines is declining, nursing is seeing the opposite trend with strong interest in both research- and practice-focused doctoral degrees,” said Dr. Potempa. “In PhD programs alone, enrollments have increased by more than 40% since 2003, which far outpaces enrollment growth in doctoral programs across the other health professions.” As the work to expand access to primary care continues nationwide, many more nurses with doctoral degrees will be needed to provide essential healthcare services, including nurses to serve as Advanced Practice Registered Nurses and in other specialty roles.


Though 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 51,082 qualified applications were turned away from 503 entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs in 2011. AACN expects this number to increase when final data on qualified applications turned away in Fall 2011 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. For a graphic showing the number of qualified applicants turned away from entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs over the past 9 years, see


In addition to its annual survey, AACN also has collected data on the employment of new graduates from entry-level RN programs (baccalaureate and master’s) to assess how well these RNs are doing in securing their first jobs in nursing. Conducted for the second consecutive year, survey findings show that baccalaureate nursing graduates are once again more than twice as likely to have jobs at the time of graduation than those entering the workforce in other fields. Though the employment rate at graduation dipped from 65% in 2010 to 56% in 2011 for BSN students, the employment rate at 4-6 months after graduation was almost identical over the two-year period (89% in 2010 versus 88% in 2011). 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 24% of new graduates in 2010 had a job offer at the time of graduation.

This year, AACN collected data on entry-level master’s degree programs (MSNs), which remains 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 (74% for MSNs vs. 56% for BSNs) and at 4-6 months post-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.

A growing body of research conducted by Dr. Linda Aiken and other nurse scientists clearly show that higher levels of RN education are linked to better patient outcomes and lower mortality rates. Surveyed schools of nursing were asked if employers in their area were requiring or strongly preferring new hires with baccalaureate degrees, with the findings showing that 30.1% of employers require the BSN for new hires while 76.6% strongly prefer BSN-prepared nurses.

“AACN stands ready to work with our colleagues teaching in associate degree programs to ensure a seamless progression into BSN and higher degree programs,” said Dr. Potempa. “Our organization has a long history of fostering collaboration and consensus-building, which are necessary to moving the nursing profession forward. AACN encourages new graduates to immediately continue on to graduate level education whenever possible, which will open up new career opportunities in education, research, and advanced practice nursing, among others.”

To download the complete Research Brief on the Employment of New Nurse Graduates and Employer Preferences for Baccalaureate-Prepared Nurses, see


Now in its 31st year, AACN’s Annual Survey of Institutions with Baccalaureate and Higher Degree Nursing Programs is conducted by the association’s Research and Data Center. Information from the survey forms the basis for the nation's premier database on trends in enrollments and graduations, student and faculty demographics, and faculty and deans' salaries. AACN data reflect actual counts reported in fall 2011 by nursing schools, not projections or estimates based on past reporting.

The annual AACN survey is a collaborative effort with data on nurse practitioner programs collected jointly with the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties and data on clinical nurse specialist programs collected with the National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists. Complete survey results are compiled in three separate reports, which will be available in March 2012:

  • 2011-2012 Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing
  • 2011-2012 Salaries of Instructional and Administrative Nursing Faculty in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing
  • 2011-2012 Salaries of Deans in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing

More information about the upcoming data reports will be posted soon on the AACN Web site at


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 670 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.


Robert Rosseter, 202-463-6930, ext. 231