New AACN Data Confirm that More Nurses Are Advancing Their Education - a Trend that Enhances Patient Safety and Healthcare Quality

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

WASHINGTON, D.C., December 4, 2012 - Today, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) released preliminary survey data showing that enrollment in all types of professional nursing programs increased from 2011 to 2012, including a 3.5% increase in entry-level Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) programs. AACN's annual survey findings are based on data reported from 664 of the 856 nursing schools in the U.S. (77.6% response rate) with baccalaureate and/or graduate programs. In a separate survey, AACN 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.

"AACN is pleased to see across-the-board increases in nursing school enrollments this year given our commitment to encouraging all nurses to advance their education as a catalyst for improving patient care," said AACN President Jane Kirschling. "As the national voice for professional nursing education, AACN is committed to working with the education and healthcare community to create a highly qualified nursing workforce able to meet the expectations and challenges of contemporary nursing practice."

Demand Increases for Baccalaureate Nursing Education

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 3.5% enrollment increase for entry-level baccalaureate programs is based on data supplied by the same 539 schools reporting in both 2011 and 2012. To download a graphic depicting enrollment changes in baccalaureate nursing programs from 1994-2012, see

Among the most stunning findings, results from the AACN survey show that the number of students enrolled in baccalaureate degree completion programs - called RN to BSN programs - increased by 22.2% from 2011 to 2012 (471 schools reporting). This year marks the 10th year of enrollment increases in these programs, which signals a growing interest among nurses and employers for baccalaureate-prepared nurses. Stakeholders inside and outside the nursing profession - including the Institute of Medicine, Tri-Council for Nursing, National Advisory Council for Nursing Education and Practice, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and many others - are calling for higher levels of academic progression in nursing. AACN is working on several fronts to enhance the number of baccalaureate-prepared nurses in the workforce, including:

More Students Entering Graduate Nursing Programs

Preliminary data from AACN's 2012 survey show that enrollment in master's and doctoral degree nursing programs increased significantly this year. Nursing schools with master's programs reported an 8.2% jump in enrollments with 432 institutions reporting data. In doctoral nursing programs, the greatest growth was seen in Doctor of Nursing Practice programs where enrollment increased by 19.6% (166 schools reporting) from 2011 to 2012. During this same time period, enrollment in research-focused doctoral programs (PhD, DNS) edged up slightly by 1.3% (96 schools reporting), even though 195 qualified applicants were turned away from these programs, based on preliminary findings.

"Momentum is clearly building for advancing nursing education at all levels," added Dr. Kirschling. "Given the calls for more baccalaureate and graduate prepared nurses, federal and private funding for nursing education should be targeted directly to the schools and programs that prepare students at these levels. Further, achieving the Institute of Medicine's recommendations related to education will require strong academic-practice partnerships and a solid commitment among our practice colleagues to encouraging and rewarding registered nurses (RNs) committed to moving ahead with their education."

Qualified Students Turned Away

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 52,212 qualified applications were turned away from 566 entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs in 2012. AACN expects this number to increase when final data on qualified applications turned away in Fall 2012 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 10 years, see

Hiring Preference for Baccalaureate Nursing Graduates

In addition to its annual survey, AACN also has collected data on the employment of new graduates from entry-level programs (baccalaureate and master's) to assess how well these RNs are doing in securing their first jobs in nursing. Conducted for the third 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 increased slightly from 56% in 2011 to 57% in 2012 for BSN students, the employment rate at 4-6 months after graduation was identical over the two-year period (88%). 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 25.5% of new graduates in 2011 had a job offer at the time of graduation.

AACN also collected data on entry-level master's degree programs (MSNs), which remain 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 (73% for MSNs vs. 57% 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.

Once again this year, AACN queried nursing schools to find out if hospitals and other employers are expressing a preference for hiring new nurses with a bachelor's degree. A significant body of research shows that nurses with baccalaureate level preparation are linked to better patient outcomes, including lower mortality and failure-to-rescue rates. With the Institute of Medicine calling for 80% of the nursing workforce to hold at least a bachelor's degree by 2020, moving to prepare nurses at this level has become a national priority. In terms of this year's survey, 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 39.1% of employers require the BSN for new hires while 77.4% strongly prefer BSN-prepared nurses.

"Providing opportunities for nurses to advance their education serves the public good," said AACN CEO Geraldine "Polly" Bednash. "AACN looks for opportunities to work with our colleagues in higher education to remove barriers to educational advancement and encourage all nurses to take the next step in their professional development."

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

About the AACN Survey

Now in its 32nd 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 2012 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 2013:

  • 2012-2013 Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing
  • 2012-2013 Salaries of Instructional and Administrative Nursing Faculty in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing
  • 2012-2013 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