Officials phase out nursing doctorate options, offer new degrees amid enrollment decline

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Nursing school officials said they plan to phase out some specialities in the Doctors' of Nursing program, which has led to the decline in enrollment.

Institutional data shows that enrollment in a School of Nursing graduate program has been cut in half since its first year, but nursing school officials said the decrease is attributed to a growing focus on advanced nursing practices.

Seventy-six students were enrolled in the Doctors’ of Nursing Practice program – which offers courses on leadership in nursing – when the nursing school first opened in 2010, but only 38 students registered this year, the data shows. Officials said the decline is a result of an effort to phase out some DNP program specialty concentrations and increase the school’s focus on advanced nursing practice education in fields like nursing administration.

Mercedes Echevarria, the program’s assistant dean, said nursing school officials decided in 2015 to increase focus on advanced nursing practice roles, like nursing administration and population health, to align with “national workforce” trends. She said officials eliminated several DNP program specialty concentrations, which affected overall DNP program enrollment.

“As GW Nursing sunsets programs in response to these variables, we offset enrollment strategically through growth in other programs and/or launch of new programs that fit with current and future healthcare community needs,” Echevarria said.

Nursing practice program enrollment reached a high of 114 students in 2012 and hit an all-time low of 33 students in 2018, according to institutional data.

Echevarria said the nursing school uses “targeted messaging” to appeal to prospective student populations – like alumni from the school’s master’s of science in nursing programs – who might be interested in pursuing a DNP.

She said nursing school officials examine market trends, national nursing school enrollment trends and the needs of the “nursing profession and community” to plan for enrollment shifts over a five-year period.

Echevarria said the nursing school has grown the accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program and instituted a doctoral program in response to national health care trends. She said the school has launched two advanced nursing practice tracks – the Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner and Adult Gerontological Acute Care Nurse Practitioner programs.

Nursing experts said enrollment and the number of nursing practice programs have increased nationwide because applicants for higher-salaried nursing positions must hold advanced nursing degrees.

Pam Cipriano, the University of Virginia’s nursing school dean, said participation in master’s and Doctor of Nursing practice programs provide students with leadership and administrative skills necessary to attain higher-paying nursing jobs.

Tuition for the Doctors’ of Nursing Practice program currently costs more than $50,000 per semester, according to the Student Accounts Office website.

Cipriano added that the number of nursing practice programs in the United States has increased in response to an uptick in student interest in pursuing advanced nursing education.

Several of GW’s peer schools – like the universities of Pittsburgh, Miami and Rochester, and New York, Northeastern and Wake Forest universities – all offer Doctor of Nursing Practice programs.

“It’s attractive externally because of the benefits of increasing deliverers of health care,” Cipriano said. “It’s attractive internally because it’s viewed as an opportunity to really, truly use your education and expertise and have more decision-making power.”

Mark Covin, the director of admissions and recruitment at the University of California Los Angeles School of Nursing, said graduate nursing students seek out advanced nursing degrees to move up into nursing leadership positions during their careers, a practice that has led to recent enrollment increases.

Registered nurses earned an average yearly salary of nearly $72,000 in 2018, but advanced practice registered nurses and nurses with master’s degrees reaped a median pay of about $114,000 in the same period, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Maybe they feel stagnant in their floor that they’re at, they want more of a challenge or they want to get more into a supervisory or administration role,” Covin said.

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