It was only a few years ago, when we all heard that nursing was THE safe bet if you were going to go back to school for an education. As the largest of all licensed healthcare professions, nursing has been steadily growing in size the past few decades and the need for qualified nurses was not slowing. Students looking for a meaningful, rewarding and financially stable career had to look no farther than nursing, and flocked to nursing programs in unprecedented rates. However, as the demand for nursing programs skyrocketed, publicly funded schools, which had previously been the backbone of the nursing education system, have been unable to keep up.
Demand for Nurses Remains High
Nowadays, those looking to get into a publicly funded nursing program are finding acceptance in community college and state universities hard to come by. We have all heard the stories of students with 4.0 GPAs sitting on waitlists for nursing programs for years at a time, wondering if they will ever actually be able to start their education in full. These long wait periods and high probability of being turned away by community college and university nursing programs, nursing students are relying more and more on the for-profit education system to fulfill their education needs. For-profit colleges, which cost significantly more to attend and do not have the same record of quality education as public education systems.
Meanwhile, hospitals are fighting to keep enough qualified nurses on their payroll. Nursing is a career that is expected to grow substantially in demand over the next decade, but with so many applicants to nursing programs being turned away, it is hard to imagine that the public education system will be able to fulfill the demand.
According to a study conducted by the AACN, one of the greatest reasons for the recent drop in acceptance has been a lack of faculty, with 62.5% of nursing institutions reporting this as a problem. Faculty issues are not usually a consideration that we think about when examining expected growth in a job market. But in the case of nursing, a shortage of faculty is certainly directly related to a shortage of new educated professionals entering the workforce.
One large reason that there is such a shortage of faculty in the nursing profession has to do with the large amount of education that is required to become a nursing professor, as well as the pay associated with the profession. NPR reported on this issue earlier in the month, where they found that most public institutions require a doctoral degree in order to be full time faculty at a nursing school. However, less than 1% of working professional nurses actually have this high level degree. Additionally, the average Professor of Nursing with a PhD will earn about $75,000 per year. This is almost $50,000 dollars LESS than the average nurse practitioner with only their Masters degree. So, as you can see, there is little incentive for a nurse to transition to instructor, especially if they enjoy their work (as most nurses do!)
For-Profit schools often have more lenient hiring practices for their faculty then their public institution counterparts. For-Profit schools are often willing to hire current practicing nurses for part time positions, and are willing to accept professors with a only a Masters degree and work experience. This allows them to keep acceptance rates into their schools high, as they have a larger pool of professionals to pull their faculty from.
So, what now?
As more students apply to nursing programs, and the demand for new nurses increases, it is important that we hold our schools accountable for the education they provide. With faculty shortages rising, and no real proposals for solving the issue, it is likely that some institutions will take shortcuts in order to increase enrollment. Whether you attended a traditional non-profit school, a public institution or a for-profit university, it is important that you share your experience with potential nursing students before they enroll in college.
There are several ways that you can connect with future nursing students in order to share your educational experience. Share your experience with your nursing school via twitter or on a blog post. Sites like GuidetoHealthcareSchools.com collect reviews on different school institutions, where you can leave your opinion. Important factors that are worth noting are class sizes, the strength of the curriculum, job placement help and the quality of the faculty at your school. While this may not directly influence the actions of schools, it will leave potential nursing students more informed about the education they will receive at an institution, and better armed to make decisions for their future.
Etana Flegenheimer works with Guide To Healthcare Schools, a comprehensive site that helps students make decisions about their healthcare career and education. In addition, she writes about topics in healthcare education for the SR Education Group blog, and is particularly interested in how healthcare reform laws will change the quality of education for healthcare students. You can find her on twitter @Eflegen.