The Rapid Growth of Graduates From Associate, Baccalaureate, and Graduate Programs in Nursing

Peter I. Buerhaus, PhD, RN, FAAN; David I. Auerbach, PhD; Douglas O. Staiger, PhD


Nurs Econ. 2014;32(6):290-295,311. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


In 2000, a shortage of approximately 500,000 registered nurses (RNs) was forecasted by 2020 (Buerhaus, Staiger, & Auerbach, 2000). This forecast was driven largely by the expected retirement of roughly one million RNs who were born during the baby boom generation (1946–1964). At the time these projections were made, enrollment into nursing education programs had been declining for several years and there was no evidence that interest in nursing was likely to increase. To make matters worse, the demand for nurses was expected to in crease due to the aging of roughly 80 million baby boomers between 2010 and 2030. Consequently, the nursing workforce would need to not only replace large numbers of retiring RNs, but expand the total size of the RN workforce to meet increasing demand.

This projection of a large shortage of RNs, and other projections that followed (Health Re sources and Services Administration, 2004), stimulated myriad responses over the past decade aimed at increasing interest in the nursing profession. Chief among these was the Johnson & Johnson Campaign for Nursing's Future, which began in 2002 and continues today. The campaign has spent more than $50 million to spark interest in nursing and has raised more than $15 million in scholarship support for nurses. The J&J Campaign was bolstered by a Sigma Theta Tau International initiative and by a diverse portfolio of grants and programs developed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Additionally, hospital and health care professional organizations developed campaigns to recruit and retain nurses, Congress passed legislation aimed at strengthening the nursing profession, and many states developed workforce commissions that gathered and disseminated data on the nursing workforce.

Nursing education programs also participated in efforts to attract people into nursing and help mitigate the projected shortage of RNs. Although the accelerated nursing degree option had developed in the 1990s, education programs expanded this option rapidly during the 2000s. Nursing programs also established new pathways for RNs to advance their education, including options for RNs prepared at the associate degree level to obtain their baccalaureate degree in nursing. Programs also offered new postmaster's certificate options and developed the clinical nurse leader and doctor of nursing practice. And, in 2010, nursing academic leaders were charged to respond to a recommendation from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) report, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, to "work together to increase the proportion of nurses with a baccalaureate degree from 50 to 80 percent by 2020" (2010, p. 12).

Using data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), this article reports an assessment of trends in nursing education since the early 2000s. Specifically, the growth of nursing graduates is examined by level of education (associate, bachelor's, and graduate), type of nursing education program (public, private not-for-profit, and private for-profit), and by geography (the states where the production of nursing graduates have flourished). Finally, the implications of the growing production of RNs are discussed in the context of the current nurse labor market, the long-term growth of the RN workforce, and the development of health care reform.