Over the past several months we have been analyzing various trends across different degree programs in U.S. higher education. This particular post focuses on the nursing conferral trends from 2000 to 2019. We focused on nursing programs because these are truly work-force pathway certificates and degrees. For example, an individual can become a Certified Nurse Practitioner with a certificate of less than one year of education, an individual can become a Licensed Practical Nurse with a certificate of typically less than two years of education, and an individual can become a Registered Nurse with an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree. Beyond the bachelor’s degree, Registered Nurses can become an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse through the completion of a master’s, post-master’s certificate, or a doctorate degree in areas such as nurse practitioner (for which there are many specializations,), nurse midwives, nurse specialist, and nurse anesthetists.
Before we go into the why of nursing trends, we wanted to share some of the data insights from our Tableau analysis. The actual Tableau is embedded below but you can also view our free reports in the link above. One IPEDS caveat as well before we get started [What’s a CDER blog post without an IPEDS caveat?]. The Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) Codes that define “Registered Nursing, Nursing Administration, Nursing Research and Clinical Nursing” changed in 2010. For example, in 2000, CIP Code 51.1601 referred to Nursing/Registered Nurse, in 2010, this category was represented by CIP Code 51.3801. We have done our best to change all of the 2000 CIP Codes to the 2010 CIP Codes. Also, several nursing categories did not exist prior to 2010, so if you review historical trends by CIP Codes for these categories there is no data prior to 2010: (51.3816) Emergency Room/Trauma Nursing; (51.3817) Nursing Education; (51.3818) Nursing Practice; (51.3819) Palliative Care Nursing; (51.3820) Clinical Nurse Leader; (51.3821) Geriatric Nurse/Nursing; and (51.3822) Women’s Health Nurse/Nursing.
Utilizing the Tableau report above, we notice the following nursing conferral trends by the Award Level of nursing programs at degree-granting institutions in the United States. There are 11 different award levels reported in IPEDS data. Nursing conferrals, across all award levels, have grown 182.9 percent from 2000 to 2019. As these relate to Nursing conferrals, here are the trends by award level since 2000.
- Award of less than 1 academic year – grew 255% from 2000 to 2019
- Award of at least 1 but less than 2 academic years – grew by 67.2% from 2000 to 2019
- Award of at least 2 but less than 4 academic years (this is still a certificate) – declined 66.6% from 2000 to 2019
- Associate’s degree – grew by 90.3% from 2000 to 2019
- Bachelor’s degree – grew by 256.8% from 2000 to 2019
- Postbaccalaureate certificate – grew by 440.5% from 2000 to 2019
- Master’s degree – grew by 319.9% from 2000 to 2019
- Postmaster’s certificate – grew by 528% from 2000 to 2019
The growth in nursing doctoral programs was relatively flat from 2000 to 2007. To further complicate the reporting, doctoral degrees were not divided into professional practice or research/scholarship until 2008. The growth data below is only from 2008 or 2009.
- Doctor’s degree – professional practice grew 14,082% from 2008 to 2019 (39 conferrals in 2008 to 5,531 in 2019)
- Doctor’s degree – research/scholarship grew 1,545% from 2008 to 2019 (176 conferrals in 2008 to 2,896 in 2019)
- Doctor’s degree – other grew 1,171% from 2009 to 2019 (28 conferrals in 2009 to 356 conferrals in 2019)
What has been driving these increases in nursing conferrals? There are a few factors at play and each is unique in their own way. The first driver is the call from the Institute of Medicine in 2010 that the “number of registered nurses with a bachelor’s degree in nursing be at 80 percent by 2020”. In 2012, our Tableau data reflects the point where more conferrals were occurring at the bachelors level versus the associates level. In 2011, there were 88,123 associates conferrals and 87,221 bachelors conferrals. In 2012, there were 90,588 associates conferrals and 99,309 bachelors conferrals. Since 2012, the bachelor’s degrees have grown 56 percent while associate’s degrees have declined 6.3 percent.
The second driver is the education requirements for nurses to become licensed as an advanced practice registered nurse. According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, a “master’s, post-master’s or doctoral preparation and national board certification is required for entry-level practice”. At odds with this definition is the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) which have been promoting the Doctor of Nurse Practitioner as the appropriate level of preparation calling for the advanced nursing practice to shift “from the master’s degree to the doctorate-level”. This has been the position of AACN since 2004.
Since 2004, however, the number of individuals graduating with a master’s degree in nursing has grown from 12,475 to 51,213, an increase on 311 percent. Not to be out done, doctoral programs have also been rising, from 499 in 2004 to 5,531 in 2019. The number of master’s degrees awarded in 2019 is nearly 10 times that of the doctoral degree. This reflects that institutions and students are still choosing to complete APRN credentials at the master’s level. Of special note, the majority of doctoral degrees in professional practice awarded in 2019 was in the CIP Code of 51.3817, Nursing Education, with 3,413 conferrals, 62 percent of the overall conferrals at this degree level.
As reflected by these nursing conferral trends, nursing as an educational pathway to a career is still growing and there are still many opportunities for students to complete these degrees at various levels through various modalities. While we are not focusing on delivery mode in this post, it is important for higher education institutions to understand what adult learners are looking for in their nursing pathway and how best to serve them to meet their educational and career goals.