Faculty Shortages in Nursing Education
by Dr. Ellie Bruecker, Senior Research Associate, SHSF
Recent projections suggest that the U.S. will fall short of the nursing demand by approximately 1.8 million nurses by the end of the decade, in part because nursing school enrollments are unable to keep pace with demand. Despite a 5.1% increase in enrollments in 2019, projections of demand still exceed new enrollments. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, schools turned away more than 80,000 qualified Bachelor’s degree applicants in 2019 “due to an insufficient number of faculty, clinical sites, classroom space, clinical preceptors, and budget constraints.” And yet, a recent analysis from Third Way found that Bachelor’s and Associate’s degree programs were among the highest rated in return on investment for graduates.
Given the positive outcomes for graduates and the increasing demand from prospective students, why are they being turned away? At least one bottleneck on class sizes appears to be a dramatic — and worsening — shortage of nursing school faculty.
A recent survey of 892 nursing schools revealed a 7.2% national nursing faculty vacancy rate, with nearly 90% of the vacancies requiring or preferring a Doctorate. In addition to existing vacancies, responding schools also noted a need to create new faculty positions in order to meet student demand. Retaining faculty is also challenging; on average, nursing faculty with Master’s degrees earn $79,444, compared to an average salary of $110,000 for nurse practitioners in the field with at least a Master’s degree.
This problem is getting worse. As with current RNs, nursing school faculty members are trending toward retirement age; the average age of a doctorally-trained associate professor is 57 years old. Projections from 2017 estimate that one-third of nursing faculty would retire by 2025.
So what does it take to become a nursing school faculty instructor? I spent the past few days reviewing the statutes to get a handle on the requirements in each state–and now you don’t have to!
Regulations and exceptions are listed by state below, with links to relevant administrative codes.
Given the nursing faculty shortage and the likelihood that it will worsen, some policymakers have suggested regulation changes around faculty qualifications to widen the pool of potential hires; a 2022 article from Pew summarizes new efforts in Kentucky to ease qualification requirements for nursing faculty. In response to previous efforts by state lawmakers to amend faculty qualification regulations, a 2008 report from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing reviewed research on nursing education and concluded that baccalaureate nursing programs should maintain graduate degree requirements for faculty in order to prevent medical errors among new nurses. The paper did not take a position on faculty currently enrolled in MSN programs (see above), which may be a newer policy idea.
Now, I’m not a nurse, nor am I an expert on nursing schools or the nursing profession. I’m not the right person to offer an opinion on nursing faculty qualifications! But as a financial aid expert, my instinct is that this might be an issue of pathways to education. States should consider greater investments in their nursing schools and in helping prospective nursing faculty earn the credentials they need to educate future nurses. At present, New Mexico and Washington state are considering bills that appropriate new dollars for nursing education.
The current nursing shortage is already negatively impacting both providers and patients, and the aging population of both patients and nurses will only exacerbate and spread these issues. Additionally, COVID-19 has intensified the nursing shortage crisis, with turnover and workforce exits increasing while hospitals are strained by the height of medical care demands. A recent survey found that 22% of the nursing workforce indicated that they “may leave their role providing patient care” in the coming year. Many hospitals and other healthcare facilities have turned to travel nurses to fill the gaps — and some nurses have opted to leave their permanent positions to take advantage of the significant salary increase from traveling positions. Critical care travel nurses make $99 an hour, on average, compared to approximately $40 an hour as a full-time staff nurse. This is an incredibly expensive solution — and a temporary one.