This Is Going to Hurt: Nursing to Cut Enrollment 25 Percent

Despite a chronic shortage of nurses and the graying of the nation’s nursing work force, Carolina finds itself in the budgetary position of having to cut overall undergraduate enrollments by about 25 percent.

“The budget challenges have left us little alternative but to reduce the number of students we enroll,” said School of Nursing Dean Kristen M. Swanson.

The enrollment reductions begin with admissions for the summer semester, which starts May 9.

Swanson said that, despite the cuts, “we are committed to offering high-quality, rigorous and safe programs for entry into nursing practice at the baccalaureate and advanced practice levels.”

In January, Chancellor Holden Thorp ’86 instituted campuswide cuts equal to a 5 percent permanent state budget reduction to take effect July 1. That move anticipated expected reductions to the University’s state appropriations that could reach as high as 15 percent for 2011-12. These anticipated cuts come on top of almost 10 percent in permanent cuts that the School of Nursing has absorbed over the past two years.

The enrollment reductions must be implemented now because postponing them until January 2012 would not allow adequate savings to meet budget requirements. The school is continuing to explore additional means to absorb the anticipated budget cuts.

School of Nursing students have two options for preparation to enter into practice as a registered nurse, or RN: the bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) six-semester program or the accelerated bachelor of science in nursing (ABSN) four-semester program for applicants with a baccalaureate or higher degree in another field of study. Together, the two programs have been graduating about 200 new nurses each year.

The projected need for nurses continues to grow because of a number of factors — health care reform, the health care needs of the aging Baby Boomer generation and an aging nursing work force.

And student demand is intense nationally. U.S. nursing schools turned away 54,991 qualified applicants from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs in 2009, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing in a recent report by The Baltimore Sun.

Also nationally, more than 1 million new nurses are expected to be needed by 2015 to replace those leaving the profession and to care for a growing number of patients, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, The Sun reported.

Complicating the problem nationally, there is a growing lack of faculty at many schools to train nurses. The Sun reported that, in contrast to North Carolina, Maryland is expanding programs to not only train the next generation of nurses but also address the growing shortage of faculty. Two universities in the Baltimore area — Johns Hopkins and Stevenson — recently created accelerated graduate programs to give current nurses an opportunity to earn advanced degrees and, in turn, hopefully help train new nurses, according to The Sun. Other schools also are adding programs in a field that’s expected to continue to be a job engine.

“Given the nursing shortage, it is truly unfortunate to find ourselves reducing enrollments to the levels we realized 10 years ago,” Swanson said. “However, we cannot sacrifice the quality or safety of nursing education, so our difficult choice was to reduce the number of students.”

The school traditionally admits both BSN and ABSN applicants in January and May, but beginning with this May’s admissions cycle, only BSN applicants will be admitted in May and only ABSN applicants admitted in January. The pacing of enrollments enables economies of scale. Students can overlap in some of the main lecture courses while clinical requirements are spread out over the academic year.

The school has offered the 174 individuals who already have applied for this May’s admission to the ABSN program the option of having their materials considered for admission to the January cohort, and the University has agreed to refund application fees to those who choose to withdraw their application.

“These are hard economic times for the state, University and school,” Swanson said. “While the decision to cut enrollments is painful for all, it will be experienced as a very real loss to current ABSN applicants whose plans will be delayed, to faculty whose livelihood will be directly impacted, and to pre-nursing students who will find it more difficult than ever to access nursing education.”


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