Nurse educators are currently in high demand, especially considering the corresponding lack of nurses with the educational preparation to fill this need. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) found a 7.9% vacancy rate in faculty nursing positions in their Special Survey On Vacant Faculty Positions for Academic Year 2018-2019 — and 90.7% of these vacant positions required or preferred doctorate preparation. This has resulted in “U.S. nursing schools (turning) away 75,029 qualified applicants from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs in 2018.” The primary reason given was a shortage of nursing faculty.
Why Is There a Need for More Nurse Educators?
AACN has found that the short supply of nurse educators is due to several compounding factors, including:
- The Aging Workforce of Current Nurse Educators
In the AACN’s report 2016-2017 Salaries of Instructional and Administrative Nursing Faculty, they noted the average age of professors and associate professors with doctorates was 62.4 years and 57.2 years, respectively. Faculty members who had earned a master’s degree were in their mid-50s on average. With the average faculty age continuing to climb, current nurse educators have fewer years left to teach, leaving university and college administrators concerned about finding timely replacements.
- High Rates of Faculty Retirement Expected Over the Next Decade
With an aging cohort of nurse educators comes impending faculty retirements. Fang & Kesten (2017) projected faculty retirements from 2016-2025 to be approximately 33% of the total number of nurse educators in 2015. With many instructors retiring, colleges and universities are struggling to replace these experienced educators.
- Graduate Programs Are Not Producing Enough Nurses With the Educational Requirements to Teach
Compounding the nurse educator shortage is the issue of graduate programs not providing enough nurses with the master’s and doctoral degrees required to teach nursing at the college and university level. Although thousands of nurses apply to graduate programs every year, AACN noted that in 2018, 2,909 qualified applicants were not admitted to doctoral programs, and 10,788 qualified applicants were not admitted to master’s programs. And the main reasons for turning away qualified graduate school applicants were insufficient faculty and a lack of clinical education sites.
- Higher Pay in Private Practice and Clinical Settings Draws Qualified Nurses Away From Teaching
With a graduate degree, nurses have many exciting and rewarding career options, with healthcare organizations more than eager to hire them. Opportunities in private practice as nurse practitioners and nurse anesthetists are also plentiful, meaning graduate nurses can have more professional autonomy and set their own work hours and pay rates. Also, 2017 data from AACN shows that graduate nurses earn more as nurse practitioners (drawing $110,000 per year, on average) compared to assistant professors with a master’s degree (average salary was $79,444). The salary discrepancy of just over $30,000 a year presents another barrier to recruiting nurse educators.
- There Are Not Enough Full-Time Nursing Faculty Positions to Meet Student Demand
Besides needing faculty to replace those retiring now and those who will soon retire, AACN found in their Special Survey On Vacant Faculty Positions For Academic Year 2018-2019 that some nursing schools also identified a need for more full-time nursing positions to meet the current graduate applicant demand. AACN identified 138 schools that said they did not currently have any vacant full-time positions, but they still needed more faculty to meet their teaching needs.
What Can Be Done to Address the Nursing Faculty Shortage?
AACN has identified several initiatives by both public and private organizations to increase the number of graduate-prepared nurses in master’s and doctoral programs who would be eligible to teach nursing. Some states, such as Hawaii, have started offering up to five $1,000 tax credits per preceptor to address the shortage of clinical education sites for graduate students. Private organizations such as the Jonas Center for Nursing Excellence provide over 1,000 scholarships in all 50 states through the Jonas Nurse Scholars initiative to help prepare doctoral students in Ph.D., DNP and Ed.D. nursing programs.
By offering flexibility, convenience and affordability, online MSN Nurse Educator programs can be part of the solution, helping prepare more nursing faculty for tomorrow’s students.