New AACN Data Show an Enrollment Surge in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs Amid Calls for More Highly Educated Nurses

More than 75,000 Qualified Applications to Professional Nursing Programs Were Turned Away in 2011

WASHINGTON, DC, March 22, 2012 - 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 advance their education. Though nursing schools have been able to expand student capacity despite faculty and resource shortfalls, the latest data show that 75,587 qualified applications to professional nursing programs were turned away last year, including more than 14,354 applications to graduate programs.

“With the release of the Institute of Medicine’s report on the Future of Nursing, the national conversations about increasing the education level of the nursing workforce are accelerating,” said AACN President Kathleen Potempa. “Last year’s enrollment increases across all types of baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs clearly indicate a strong interest among nursing students in advancing their education and developing the skills needed to thrive in contemporary care settings.”

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) is calling for at least 80% of the nursing workforce to hold a baccalaureate degree by 2020 and a doubling of the number of nurses with doctorates. AACN believes that implementing the IOM recommendations will propel the nursing profession forward and better position nurses to become full partners in reforming our healthcare delivery system. The association is committed to working with stakeholders to achieve these goals, which will positively impact the health of the nation.

2011 AACN Survey Overview

AACN’s latest survey findings update the preliminary data announced in December 2011 and determine enrollment trends by comparing data from the same schools reporting in both 2010 and 2011. Final survey data show that enrollments in entry-level baccalaureate programs in nursing increased by 5.1% in 2011, a significantly higher percentage than was originally reported last December (3.9%). For a graphic depicting enrollment changes in baccalaureate programs from 1994-2011, see

Other key findings from AACN’s 2011 survey include the following:

  • Survey Response: AACN's findings are based on responses from 733 nursing schools (87.5%) in the U.S. and its territories that grant baccalaureate and/or graduate degrees. AACN data reflect actual counts reported in Fall 2011 by nursing schools, not projections or estimates based on past reporting trends.
  • Applications and Acceptance Rate: In the 2010-2011 academic year, 255,671 completed applications were received for entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs (a 5.6% increase from 2010) with 159,387 meeting admission criteria and 101,060 applications accepted. These data translate into an acceptance rate of 39.5%. For a graphic showing a eight-year trend in applications received, see
  • Total Enrollment: The AACN survey found that total enrollment in all nursing programs leading to the baccalaureate degree is 259,100, an increase from 238,799 in 2010. Within this population, 169,125 students are enrolled in entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs. In graduate programs, 94,480 students are enrolled in master’s programs, 4,907 are enrolled in research-focused doctoral programs, and 9,094 are enrolled in practice-focused doctoral programs in nursing.
  • Total Graduations: In terms of graduations, the AACN survey found that 80,767 students graduated from baccalaureate programs last year, including 52,922 students from entry-level programs and 27,845 students from baccalaureate degree completion programs. In graduate programs, 24,311 students graduated from master’s programs, 601 from research-focused doctorates, and 1,595 from practice-focused doctorates.
  • 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 26.9%, the proportion of minority students in master’s programs increased to 26.6%, in research-focused doctoral programs to 24.7%, and in practice-focused doctoral programs to 22.0%. For ten-year data on diversity in nursing education programs, see
  • Men in Nursing: Though men represent only 6.6% of the U.S. nursing workforce, the percentage of men in baccalaureate and master’s nursing programs are 11.4% and 9.9%, respectively. In doctoral programs, 6.8% of students in research-focused programs and 9.4% 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, 14,124 students are enrolled in the nation’s 235 accelerated baccalaureate programs, up from 13,605 in 2010, and the number of graduates climbed to 9,509. In the 63 accelerated master's degree programs now available, 5,980 students are enrolled, and 1,796 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 2010 to 2011, enrollment in RN-to-Baccalaureate programs increased by 15.8%, which marks the ninth year of enrollment increases. Currently, 646 RN-to-Baccalaureate and 168 RN-to-Master's Degree programs are available nationwide, with many programs offered completely online. In addition, 25 new RN-to-Baccalaureate and 37 new RN-to-Master’s programs are under development. See
  • Clinical Nurse Leader: The national movement to advance the Clinical Nurse Leader® (CNL) role gained momentum last year with 9 new CNL programs opening, which brings the total number of programs to 97. Currently, 2,817 students are enrolled in these generalist master’s programs (up 14.3%) and 926 CNLs graduated last year (up 41.6%). For details on the CNL, see
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice Programs:  In just six years, the number of schools offering the DNP has increased from 20 programs in 2006 to 184 programs in 2011, with another 101 programs in the planning stages. Last year, enrollment in these programs grew by 28.9%, with 9,094 students now enrolled in DNP programs.
  • Research-Focused Doctoral Programs: The 2011 AACN survey found significant growth in research-focused doctoral programs (i.e., PhD, DNS), which climbed to 125 programs last year.  In 2011, enrollment in PhD nursing programs increased by 7.9% over the previous year. Since 2003 when the DNP movement began to take shape, enrollment in research-focused doctoral programs has increased by 52%.
  • Baccalaureate to 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 77 research-focused Baccalaureate to Doctoral programs are now available with an additional 7 programs under development. See

Students Turned Away Reaches New High

Though interest in baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs is strong, thousands of qualified applicants are being turned away from four-year colleges and universities. In fact, AACN's survey found that 75,587 qualified applications were not accepted at schools of nursing last year due primarily to a shortage of faculty and resource constraints. Within this total, applications turned away include 58,327 from entry-level baccalaureate, 2,906 from RN-to-Baccalaureate, 13,198 from master's, and 1,156 from doctoral programs.

The top reasons reported by nursing schools for not accepting all qualified students into entry-level baccalaureate programs, include insufficient clinical teaching sites (65.2%), a lack of faculty (62.5%), limited classroom space (46.1%), insufficient preceptors (29.4%), and budget cuts (24.8%). For a graphic showing the number of qualified applicants turned away from entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs over the past eight years, see

The need to accommodate all qualified applicants in baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs is growing in importance given the projected demand for nurses. In February 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) identified Registered Nursing as one of the leading occupations in terms of job growth through 2020. Within the next eight years, BLS projects the need for 1.2 million additional nurses to fill new positions and replace those retiring from the profession. “Sustaining federal funding for nursing education is essential to expanding capacity in nursing schools and meeting the nation’s projected demand for nursing care,” added Dr. Potempa.

About the AACN Survey

AACN's 31st 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. Complete survey results are compiled in the report 2011-2012 Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing, which may be ordered online at Details about AACN’s annual data reports on faculty and dean salaries will be available in April 2011.

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 690 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