December 12, 2003
In the face of an ongoing national and local nursing shortage, the University of Maine at Fort Kent nursing program is reporting some good news, having broken all previous institution enrollment figures for the program and recording an enrollment percentage increase twice that of the national average.
Preliminary figures released earlier this month by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing show enrollment in entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs grew nationally by 15.9 percent in the fall of 2003 over last year. Included in this jump are numbers from UMFK, which is among the leading schools in the nation, recording a 32 percent increase over the same time period.
A record 92 students were enrolled in UMFK's nursing program this fall, the most ever since the program was introduced on the campus in 1981.
"The increase in enrollment numbers is quite substantial, especially for a rural area. We are proud to be ahead of the national average," said Rachel Albert, director of UMFK's nursing program and associate professor of nursing. "The increase in enrollment speaks to the value of living in a small rural community, whereby the division of nursing has benefited from the quick response and tremendous support and participation received from area health agencies to work collaboratively with UMFK to recruit students into the profession of nursing."
The enrollment gains at UMFK and other four-year nursing schools across the country are also being lauded by leaders who have been working at the national level to combat the increasingly critical shortage of professionals in the healthcare industry.
"With renewed calls on the national level for a more highly educated nursing workforce, it is very encouraging to see a growing interest in baccalaureate degree nursing as a career goal," said AACN President Kathleen Long. "The dramatic growth in enrollments this year is a testament to the innovative work of schools nationwide to expand student capacity in nursing programs despite limited resources."
The national jump from 2002 to 2003 follows an 8.1 percent increase from 2001 to 2002. Comparative figures at UMFK for that same time period were even more impressive, as the school witnessed a 37 percent increase.
In the fall of 2001, the university's nursing program enrolled 40 students, compared to 63 students the following year. This fall's enrollment of 92 students is more than twice what it was two years ago.
"The UMFK division of nursing set a goal of an overall nursing body of 100 on-campus students, so the increase in enrollment means that we are close to achieving our target. The increase in enrollment also demonstrates that UMFK is doing its share to contribute to the much needed nursing workforce," said Albert.
Despite the phenomenal growth at UMFK and other nursing schools, both Albert and AACN's Long are quick to note that the increase is still not sufficient to address the current registered nurse shortage, which is expected to intensify over the next decade nationally and locally.
The shortage is, in part, fueled by a six year period of enrollment declines that saw the student nursing population nationally shrink from 127,683 in 1995 to 103,999 in 2000. UMFK echoed that trend as enrollment in its baccalaureate nursing program dropped from 70 to 53 in the same six year time frame.
Meanwhile, projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, published in 2001, indicate that more than one million new and replacement nurses will be needed within the next decade.
The situation is very similar for Maine healthcare facilities, where many of the current UMFK nursing students will someday be gainfully employed.
According to a 2001 Maine Department of Labor report, there will be a projected gain of 2,676 new RN positions in the state by 2008. This will further be compounded by the need to replace nurses who reach retirement age or choose to leave the profession.
"We are preparing our students to enter this nursing shortage environment with strong leadership, critical thinking, communication, research, and technical skills. We also stress the importance of these skills to potential students who are interested in nursing as a profession," said Albert.
Part of that recruitment effort to "sell" the profession and boost nursing as a career includes planning and preparations with Northern Maine Medical Center for a nursing discovery camp scheduled for June 2004.
Students entering their freshman or sophomore year of high school will be invited to participate in the 3-day event, at which necessary nursing capabilities and skills will be stressed while the students take part in fun-filled activities planned to entice them to learn about nursing and consider the profession as a career.
UMFK's fall 2003 enrollment figures became final on October 15, the official census day for all University of Maine System campuses. The final results of AACN's annual survey of institutions with baccalaureate and higher degree nursing programs will be released later this month. These results will include changes in enrollment and graduations in RN-to-baccalaureate, master's degree, and doctoral programs; nursing school enrollment changes by geographic region; and changes in the total enrollment of baccalaureate nursing students.