ANNAPOLIS – A nationwide nursing shortage and decline in nursing school enrollment has Maryland officials concerned that the cost of tuition at some of Maryland’s nursing schools could negatively affect graduation and retention rates.
While enrollment in Maryland schools has increased, enrollment nationally has been on a six-year decline. This year, it increased slightly, but not enough to combat the shortage.
“Annual enrollment for nursing schools across the country was up 3.7 percent last year,” said Bob Rosseter, spokesman for the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.
The University of Maryland School of Nursing has seen a 16 percent increase in enrollment for the fall 2002 semester, but a decrease in bachelor’s degrees, said Angel Jackson, the school’s admissions director.
“In prior years there was some decline, but we have been very fortunate that our enrollment rate is up,” said Jackson. Maryland’s nurse vacancy rate has climbed for the past three years and there are now about 2,000 open nursing positions according to the Maryland Hospital Association. Nationally, more than 1 million nurses will be needed by 2010, according to federal labor statistics.
At a Maryland Board of Nursing meeting last month, officials said they were concerned that Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing retention rates and dropout rates could be related to the cost of the program.
Johns Hopkins is one of the most expensive nursing schools in the state at more than $10,000 a year. Maryland’s nursing school is about $6,000 a year.
Ninety percent of Hopkins students have some sort of financial aid, said Kate Pipkin, nursing school spokeswoman.
Johns Hopkins has 560 students enrolled, and the numbers have been steady for the past five years, said Pipkin. “At Hopkins we are reaching capacity and are thinking about building another facility, but that I think that’s down the road a couple of years,” she said. “That might end up being a good problem to have.”
Undergraduate enrollment rates at Johns Hopkins dropped 12 percent since last year.
Graduate full-time enrollment has also dropped from 357 graduate students last fall to 52 this fall.
“It could be due to cost of tuition as opposed to interest in the profession,” said Olivia Miles, Johns Hopkins registration coordinator.
Despite Maryland’s increase, enrollments in nursing programs nationally are still down 17 percent since 1995, according to a 2001 survey by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.
The low enrollment could be attributed to lack of interest, intentional cutbacks, faculty shortages or limited training resources according to the association.
Maryland schools have increased enrollment slightly, while graduation rates for students earning their bachelor’s decreased 14 percent according to the Maryland Board of Nursing.
“Nursing programs are not easy; they are very time consuming,” said nursing board Executive Director Donna Dorsey. “Because of the clinical aspects, it makes it harder to work, go to school and maintain a family.”
In August, President Bush signed the Nurse Reinvestment Act. The new law will fund nursing scholarships and loan repayments and will provide more incentives to those entering the field.
Maryland’s nursing board also offers scholarships to nursing students and focuses on retention of nurses already practicing.
“In the 2002 budget, we got additional funding for nursing scholarships and increased the amount that people could receive,” said Dorsey. “It is hard to assess how many nurses are actually needed to help in the event of a crisis, but it would be a lot of nurses, said Dr. Robert Bass, executive director of the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems, last month. The average age of a registered nurse in Maryland is 46 according to the 2000 Department of Health and Human Services’ National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses. “Students have many more choices in terms of careers,” said Dorsey. “It’s not the easiest or least expensive thing to do.”