Did you see it? –Nursing Schools Reject Thousands of Applicants Despite Nursing Shortage

In the midst of an acute nursing shortage in the United States, schools are turning away thousands of qualified applicants as they struggle to expand class size and hire more teachers for nursing programs according to a recent CNN report.

In America, experienced nurses are retiring at a rapid clip, and there aren't enough new nursing graduates to replenish the workforce. At the same time, the nation's population is aging and requires more care.

 "It's really a catch 22 situation," said Robert Rosseter, spokesman for the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

There's tremendous demand from hospitals and clinics to hire more nurses," he said. "There's tremendous demand from students who want to enter nursing programs, but schools are tapped out."

There are currently about three million nurses in the United States. The country will need to produce more than one million new registered nurses by 2022 to fulfill its health care needs, according to the American Nurses Association estimates.

That's a problem.

In 2017, nursing schools turned away more than 56,000 qualified applicants from undergraduate nursing programs. Going back a decade, nursing schools have annually rejected around 30,000 applicants who met admissions requirements, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

"Some of these applicants graduated high school top of their class with a 3.5 GPA or higher," said Rosseter. "But the competition to get into a nursing school right now is so intense."

Because of the lack of openings, nursing programs across the board -- in community colleges to undergraduate and graduate schools -- are rejecting students in droves.

Erica Kay is making her third attempt to get into a nursing program offered in a community college near where she lives in southern California.

Kay, 35, already is a certified surgical technician and a certified medical assistant.

"I've been working in health care since I was 21. This is my passion," she said. "I know I will be a great nurse and I'm studying very hard to get accepted into a program," she said

She's taken the standardized admissions test for nursing schools twice and applied to three community colleges. She didn't get in.

"One school responded in a letter they had 343 applications and only accepted 60 students," she said. Another school had 60 slots for 262 applications.

"Some programs won't even consider you if you score less than 80% even if you meet all other criteria," she said. Kay is retaking the nearly four-hour-long test next month, hoping to better her score.

"It shocks and upsets me that there are so many hurdles to get into nursing school when we have a nursing shortage," said Kay. "But I am going to keep trying."

Jane Kirschling, dean of the University of Maryland School of Nursing in Baltimore, said her school admits new students in the undergraduate program twice a year.

"We're averaging 200 applications each time for 55 slots," she said. "So we're turning away one student for every student we accept."

She said the nursing profession has surged in popularity for a few reasons. "Nursing offers an entry-level living wage with which you can support a family," said Kirschling.

Like many nursing schools in the U.S., Mott Community College in Flint, Michigan has also reduced the number of new nursing students it admits despite an ongoing nurse shortage in the U.S.

There's built-in flexibility and mobility. "You can work three 12-hour shifts and get four days off," she said. And nurses aren't locked into a specific location, employer or specialty for the rest of their lives. "There's tremendous growth opportunity," said Kirschling.

But Kirschling said increasing school class size to accommodate more students isn't easy or practical.

For one thing, nursing schools are struggling to hire more qualified teachers. "The annual national faculty vacancy rate in nursing programs is over 7%. That's pretty high," said Rosseter. "It's about two teachers per nursing school or a shortage of 1,565 teachers."

Better pay for working nurses is luring current and potential nurse educators away from teaching. The average salary of a nurse practitioner is $97,000 compared to an average salary of $78,575 for a nursing school assistant professor, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners.

Mott Community College in Flint, Michigan, last year reduced its new admissions from 80 to 64 students accepted twice a year into its two-year associate degree in nursing program.

The move was partly in response to a decision by the Michigan Board of Nursing to shrink the nursing student-to-faculty ratio for clinical training in hospitals and clinics. This was aimed at improving safety and avoiding crowded clinical settings.

Students in the nursing program at Mott Community College in Flint, Michigan.

"It changed from 10 students for one educator to 8 students. So we had to adjust our class size accordingly," said Rebecca Myszenski, dean of the division of Health Sciences at Mott Community College.

Kirschling's school in Baltimore has made similar adjustments. "We used to send eight to 10 nursing students per instructor to hospitals for clinical rotations. Now it's six students," she said.

Pediatrics, obstetrics and mental health are the areas where nursing students have the most unmet demand for clinical training," said Kirschling. "As we try to increase the number of nursing students, these three areas will be bottlenecks for nursing programs."

Rosseter agrees that class size presents another challenge for nursing schools. "There's not enough available clinical space to train students," he said.

Despite the constraints, nursing programs are thinking of ways to accommodate more students.

"We're expanding our program to new campuses, we're looking at new models of partnering with hospitals to allow [their] nursing staff to [be able] to teach," said Tara Hulsey, dean of West Virginia University's School of Nursing.

For example, Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, Maryland, offers an accelerated associate nursing program that allows qualified paramedics or veterans to be admitted straight into the second year of the two-year program.

In Flint, Mott Community College has partnered with University of Michigan's accelerated 16-month undergraduate program designed for veterans with medical experience who want to transition into a nursing career.

"These bridge programs could really help with the [nursing] shortage," said Myszenski. "You have to address the nursing shortage by thinking out of the box."

Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Rebecca Eblin
3 years ago

I have been an LPN for 26 years. It bothers me that somehow LPNs have been dismissed or are under valued as nurses. If the nursing shortage is so dire why not “grandfather” LPNs in as RNs? Of course there would need to be some additional training but all of that could be addressed. This matter could be easily rectified by utilizing what already exists! Anyone who has committed to the same profession (in this case it’s nursing) for most of their adult life should be commended and used for their knowledge and experience, not penalized. This profession should never… Read more »

Marilyn Lottman, RN, MSN, APRN
4 years ago

I like the idea of EMT and VETS going directly into the second year of a nursing program….many hospitals that have nursing schools should design a fast-track for these individuals and do a mentoring/clinical time like many BSN programs are doing with the students in their 4th year – where they go 3 days a week with 1 or 2 nurses on their shifts in the same unit…then they are ready to go!

Michael Ward
4 years ago

I also agree with Cherie. I would much rather take instruction from a seasoned nurse than one with just initials after their name. Start getting the vet nurses teaching with proper compensation or this crisis only gets more real.

Jane Ervin-Blais
3 years ago

Hello, I am a Diploma RN and I think it is time to bring back Diploma Schools that were typically associated with a Hospital, provided excellent clinical experience and you were on the floors in 3 years with a level of confidence and expertise that exceeded Baccalaureate prepared RN’s and most Interns. In addition, it is time to go back to a nursing model that integrates LPN’s and/or provides opportunities for them to become RN’s in a short amount to time. My further training on the floors as a new nurse were from LPN’s. Their experience, expertise and tenure far… Read more »

Era Williams, MBA
3 years ago

I would agree with one of the previous commenters who mentioned that potential nursing students often times overlook the small private schools. I work at Sovereign Nursing School in South Florida and we’re getting calls daily from students who are looking for other options. The fact that we offer flexible class schedules and flexible tuition payment options makes us attractive. Not to mention, with our smaller class sizes students get hands-on one-on-one attention. Sovereign School of Nursing is definitely an option and our current students, some of which have come from other schools, are pleased they decided to attend a… Read more »

Linda Dixon RN
3 years ago

Would someone tell me why , if there is such a shortage of nurses , why I cannot find a part time position. I retired 14 months ago and have been applying and had done interviews for part time work . I worked as nurse for 40 years , have an active license and never had any restrictions.
I am healthy and active at age 68 and wanted to keep working some . However , I think there is age discrimination since most jobs I’ve applied for I’ve had years of experience in the field .

C. DaSilva
3 years ago

The average salary for an assistant professor of nursing is NOT $78,000. I am doctorally prepared, have a decade of teaching experience in academia and am being compensated at almost $14,000 less per year. HOW can we increase student enrollment when we don’t compensate nurses with the highest qualifications?

3 years ago

I’ve been teaching as an adjunct for 10 years. The first 8 in Illinois and now in Florida. My salary in Florida is less than half of what it was in Illinois. Not much incentive to teach when your students make more right out of school than their teachers do ( with a Masters degree) Another issue is getting clinical sites. Most hospitals are full because several schools utilize the same facilities. I teach leadership clinical, and I have 9 students. I’m assigned to 2 different floors so I have to run up and down. I can’t keep an eye… Read more »

Doreen Harris
4 years ago

I am and adjunct instructor for our community state college . I have been turned away not needing me for the nursing classes due to decrease enrollment? So I am very confused with this article. I have heard it recently from someone who was trying to get into a nursing program and I thought they were incorrect with their information. I will have to check this out and see why they are saying decrease enrollments?

4 years ago

After 45 years of nursing, working up from an LPN to my CNS, I see the issue in the hierarchy of nursing. At most stages of my career (including the present), it seems to be more about WHO you know than WHAT you know. Oh yeah…also your gender. Male RNs are more rapidly advanced. Perhaps the system of education has to consider the lopsided EMPLOYMENT opportunities. Experience is great-we all have something to contribute…and this is NOT taught in the books. My current “title” is a STAFF NURSE. My manager, my CNO tell me “we don’t have the money to… Read more »

Workless RN-BSN
4 years ago

The real story is shortage jobs for any new entering nurses since 2002, maybe much longer. Employers don’t want nurses because they want to save money, use physician assistants to do the nurse jobs, and still have fear of the health care reform mandates that have caused red tape for any growth of a facility. You will notice throughout our country more heart hospitals and cancer hospitals but not any more jobs offered and people are typically sicker. Those that can not get into a clinical seat may want to pursue alternative health, chiropractic care, and avenues that show much… Read more »

Shirley Heidersbach
4 years ago

I believe the nursing schools need to review their requirements for nursing instructors. I have applied to 4 different schools and have not gotten a response from 3 of them. The 4th one never gave me an assignment even though I was hired. I have a Masters in Nursing Administration and have had Executive level positions and am certainly qualified to teach Leadership classes. I agree instructors/professors should be paid more. I wasn’t even concerned about salary when I applied.

Larry Nelson
4 years ago

This may sound like an odd twist on the situation, but after 25 years of nursing, I transitioned to Public Health Emergency Preparedness, then on to a full time, non-nursing, university instructor position in Emergency Management. I have kept my nursing license current and still work part time in correctional nursing. The academic department I am aligned with has an all on-line RN to BSN and MSN (educator-focused). My nursing colleagues are fortunate, in that there is rarely any turnover. Most are highly satisfied with our salaries and most have some clinical ‘side job’ (paid or volunteer), if not for… Read more »

Mary Jo Bankard
4 years ago

Nursing instructors are not paid enough, period. Pay them more and they will not leave for higher paying jobs. More instructors equal ability to accept more students into nursing programs. Also, once these ADN students graduate and get a job, they are expected to be working on their BSN to keep their jobs. Some of the ADN’s and diploma school graduates would stay if you did not require them to get a BSN. You (the hospitals) are requiring degrees to keep their jobs. No wonder there is a shortage. And, it’s gonna get worse. The administration in the hospitals have… Read more »

John Silver PhD RN MBAC
4 years ago

Just a few comments. While it may be fun to bash terminal degrees, understand that this is an academia issue, not a nursing issue. Most major universities require their faculty to hold terminal degrees. Additional requirements are publishing, community service, and service to their fields. I myself spent 30 years in critical care/ER before attaining my PhD, and I have worked with many outstanding faculty with terminal degrees who did the same. The issue of clinical space is important. For some reason, too many CNO’s have forgotten their professional obligation to train the next generation of nurses. EVERY hospital should… Read more »

Susan Baxter
4 years ago

I strongly agree with Cherie, I have been a nurse for 44 years, would love to teach, but I don’t feel that the degrees needed are worth the added financial burden. Your old school nurses taught on their units when students came in for clinical, this worked out very well, and should be utilized again. Thinking out of the box—ask the bedside nurse how to do things!

scott white
4 years ago

Let nurses teach nurses. Not have nurses teach instructors to teach nurses their new learned skill.

Susan Horky
4 years ago

I agree that Nursing Instructors do not need a PhD to teach the skills, ethics, pathophysiology and “listening” skills for student nurses. I have taught Nursing for about 30 years in a variety of settings: Acute Care facilities, long-term care facilities, Skilled nursing facilities. Because of all my years as a practicing RN, I was able to use scenarios from my many years of working as a bedside nurse.

Lois E Brenneman, MSN, FNP
4 years ago

The DNP degree was suppose to solve this problem of a shortage of nurses with doctorate degrees. In fact, universities are not recognizing it as on par with the PhD (nor should they) and, it would seem, still want faculty to have traditional doctorate degrees. Similarly, the people hiring in the clinical settings are not preferentially choosing candidate with DNP degrees over conventional NPs with MSN degrees. So the bottom line is exactly what did this new and innovative degree accomplish? Seems to me that we are right back to where we started – in terms of nursing instructor shortage… Read more »

Jennifer Gregg
4 years ago

In 2008, after my husband’s employer of 19 years went bankrupt, I was forced to make a choice between a full time Nursing Faculty and a full time clinical position. The faculty position was weekdays 10 months a year and paid $48,000/year. The clinical position was four 10 hour shifts a week, every third weekend, and paid $97,000/year. Over DOUBLE the Faculty position!!! And that was before any overtime. Unfortunately in the state educational system, a Nursing professor and an English professor make the SAME money. As full time Nursing Faculty, we knew our students would make MORE money their… Read more »

sonya portis
4 years ago

What can be done about ..?????Encourage and promote the current Nurse,create some type of program to Grand father them into higher positions.withou long hours in the classroom. Draw on their current experiences,and base it on that to determine type of lesser Education /cost it will be to the individual,to either teach or move up in nursing careers.Or start the High schoolers out completing the pre entrance classes for Nursing with a promise of getting into nursing school.

kate Cogan
4 years ago

I had a Diploma in Nursing. When I graduated in 1970, we ran the hospital. Get back to one on one teaching in any clinical site with nurses who know how to teach a nurse “how to do and how to think through medical issues”. Diploma nurses are the best. I went back to school to get my BSN which has not really been any asset in clinical nursing. Diploma nurses would be great for the long term care needs. Nursing homes are in need of RNs as the residents are much sicker on arrival. A teaching program which does… Read more »

sonya portis
4 years ago

I am a Nurse of over 25 years.I do not understand why it cost so much to continue your Education as a Nurse. if the need is so great.It appears to me that some type of program should be in place for all Nurse who wish to move on to higher Educations in the field nursing,without giving up a arm and a leg,and left with a huge bill.Entrence exams and classes,many times take individual several attempts before they pass.Its a money making set up.

Tierney Greene
4 years ago

Have been LNP for 20plus years.now we have to take the TEAS test. Nothing to do about nursing. Getting in school is harder when you have been out of a classroom since 1996. The majority of us work 2 jobs and have kids some of us are single mothers. I took that test twice.the dream is gone. I am a hospice nurse x 15 years. Love my job and title LPN For life

Tula Grayson
4 years ago

I feel that The Nursing School are making it hard for us to apply and be accepted.
I am a CNA and when I apply to different colleges, is all ways some thing. I have a 2.50gpa is too low
or the city college do not take loans you have to pay, out of pocket and ake another class or start all over again.
I give up !

debbie stires
4 years ago

When I went into nursing, my first objective WAS NOT how much I would be paid. I have just retired as a Hospice Nurse. We had students coming through our facility for a rotation. About 1 in 10 had what it takes, in my opinion, to be a good nurse. They constantly talked about how much money they could make, not wanting to work the hours required; they would often yawn and look around as I was mentoring them. As a general nurse you are NEVER going to be paid what you’d like. Those of us who are retiring looked… Read more »

Kathy Sandusky
4 years ago

First, I want to say how much I agree with Cherie. Skilled nurses are valuable, even without an advanced degree. The drive to control budgets seems to be more important than competent, experienced care. New nurses are less expensive. As a nurse with 30 years experience in hospital nursing, I’m finding it a challenge to find employment since I’ve moved. I’m repeatedly turned down as I have no BS degree. Or, I must agree to get into a BS program and complete it within 5 years. I do not wish to go back to college at the age of 55.… Read more »

4 years ago

Maybe if nurses were paid better with better benefits in teaching positions you could have more student class I intake if everyone really is concerned about the nurse shortage then make a significant increase in pay !

4 years ago

I think a lot potential nursing students overlook small private schools, the hours are flexible and the admissions requirements are not as stringent. They offer more hands on and a lot of one on one attention.

Cherie Shoaf
4 years ago

I absolutely agree that nurses should not have a Doctorate to teach nurses. This is ridiculous. If you have ever had an instructor with a Doctorate who has never worked as a Clinical RN, you would agree. RN’s with the clinical experience, or life experience in any role as a nurse, make much better instructors. I have been a nurse for 26 years and I can always tell you which nurses in Administration have or have not ever worked in a Clinical setting. That is very discouraging. You are putting people in these Nursing Degree Programs who only know how… Read more »

4 years ago


Allison Hale
4 years ago

While this is a multi-faceted issue, one significant factor is that most schools of nursing require instructors to have a terminal (doctoral) degree. This qualification is not necessary for instructing baccalaureate and associate degree candidates. A Master’s degree is usually more than adequate, especially if the concentration is in Nursing Education. Yet hundreds of thousands of experienced, qualified Master’s-prepared nurses do not even apply for these positions due to the terminal degree requirement. This is ridiculous in light of how many students are being turned away. Yes, I think that it is important for Master’s degree candidates to be educated… Read more »