September 2nd, 2011
By Jennifer Olin, BSN, RN
A nursing shortage, nursing education dollars, and state budget cuts: This sounds like a bitter recipe in the making, and here in Texas that is exactly what lawmakers have cooked up. The fiscal year in the Lone Star State began September 1, making the state legislature's elimination of three sources of funding for nursing education official. What we're left with will not feed the healthcare needs of this state.
According to health officials, the demand for full-time practitioners exceeds availability by 22,000, and if left untreated, Texas is on track to reach a 70,000 RN shortfall by 2020. The shortage is due to a number of factors, including the aging of the nursing workforce and more acutely ill patients in a fast-growing state.
It's not for lack of trying either. Plenty of people, young and fresh out of high school, older and more experienced looking for career changes, there are lots of viable students who want to pursue a career in nursing. There simply aren't enough nursing schools or faculty. In 2010 alone, more than 11,200 qualified applicants were turned away in Texas.
Fighting for Funding
Clair Jordan, the executive director of the Texas Nurses Association (TNA), told The Texas Tribune she is concerned the waiting lists will continue to swell. According to the Tribune, "the 2011 legislative session marked a significant departure from lawmakers’ previous efforts to invest in nursing education. A coalition which includes the TNA, the Texas Hospital Association, and chambers of commerce statewide has worked for years to lobby for more state support for nursing education. Since 2001, Texas has initiated aggressive efforts to produce more nurses by funding the so-called 'Dramatic Growth Funds.' Within a decade, Jordan says, investment has increased the number of professional nursing graduates from 7, 000 to 14,000."
Officials at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) say the biggest blow to nursing education will likely be seen with the state’s decision to reduce the Professional Nursing Shortage Reduction Program (commonly referred to as the "Dramatic Growth Funds") by 36 percent, or $17 million. THECB said the program aimed to increase graduation rates among registered nurses, and to increase the number of graduates from master’s and doctoral programs who can go on to serve in faculty positions.
Back in February, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Nursing announced it would begin reducing overall undergraduate enrollments by about 25 percent because of ongoing state budget cuts. The enrollment reductions went into effect with admissions immediately for this past summer semester.
“We are committed to offering high-quality, rigorous and safe programs for entry into nursing practice at the baccalaureate and advanced practice levels,” said School of Nursing Dean Kristen M. Swanson “The budget challenges have left us little alternative but to reduce the number of students we enroll.”
The enrollment reductions had to be implemented immediately because postponing them until January 2012 would not allow adequate savings to meet budget requirements. The school continues to explore additional means to absorb the anticipated budget cuts.
The UNC Chapel Hill School of Nursing offers both a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and an Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN). Together, the BSN and ABSN programs have been graduating approximately 200 new nurses each year. “Given the nursing shortage, it is truly unfortunate to find ourselves reducing enrollments to the levels we realized 10 years ago,” Swanson said. “However, we cannot sacrifice the quality or safety of nursing education, so our difficult choice was to reduce the number of students.”
“These are hard economic times for the state, university and school,” Swanson said. “While the decision to cut enrollments is painful for all…to faculty whose livelihood will be directly impacted, and to pre-nursing students who will find it more difficult than ever to access nursing education.”
Meanwhile, across the country, the acclaimed University of Washington (UW) School of Nursing, in Seattle, has had its state funding slashed by 50% in the past three years.
With an aging population and a national health overhaul ahead, many see the UW school as uniquely qualified to train leaders for expanded roles in health care and research. Instead, the school has been overcome by interdepartmental strife and low morale and Salmon has tendered her resignation effective next year, leaving the school reeling.
These are just a few examples of what nursing schools across the country are facing in these hard economic times. Like everyone else, I want my state to get its budget in order, prioritize and lead us strongly into the future. I don't know what the answers are, but it seems that cutting funding to programs like nursing is sort of cutting off our noses to spite our faces. I'm one of those aging nurses, and like many, with the changes ahead in healthcare reform, I wonder, "who is going to take care of us in the not-so-distant future?" We are already sinking with too few nurses and too many ill — where will we go from here if we don't have the money to help educate more nurses?