Share this article

Faculty Shortages in Nursing Schools Remain a Huge Problem. Will a New Bill in Congress Help?

Matthew Arrojas
Updated July 26, 2023
    A lack of nursing faculty at U.S. colleges is likely contributing to the nation’s nursing shortage. A new bill aims to address this issue.
    Nursing instructor helps students in classCredit: Getty Images

    Alongside familiar issues such as burnout, a shortage among nursing faculty is exacerbating the overall shortage in the nation’s nursing workforce.

    The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) reported that U.S. nursing schools turned away nearly 92,000 qualified applications in 2021 because of “an insufficient number of faculty, clinical sites, classroom space, clinical preceptors, and budget constraints.”

    A new bill introduced recently in Congress aims to address the issue, but its prospects in a divided legislative branch are uncertain at best.

    The Support Faculty and Expand Access to Nursing School Act would provide grants to colleges and universities to recruit and retain faculty to train the next generation of nurses. In turn, lawmakers hope institutions will be able to take in more nursing students to combat the strain felt across the U.S. due to a dearth of practicing nurses.

    Rep. Adam Schiff, a prominent Democratic lawmaker representing California, proposed the act.

    “Our nation’s devastating staffing shortage of nurses is fueled by a lack of resources, faculty, and funding at nursing schools — forcing nursing programs to turn away tens of thousands of qualified students each year,” Rep Schiff said in a statement.

    States in the western U.S., including California, have been hit hard by the nursing faculty shortage. However, the problem is truly a national challenge. Another AACN report stated that there were just over 2,100 full-time nursing school faculty vacancies nationwide in 2022. In addition to filling the vacancies, programs needed to create 128 new positions to fully keep pace with student demand, the report stated.

    The Support Faculty and Expand Access to Nursing School Act would create a new grant program for colleges and universities, but the proposal does not include a funding amount. If passed, the program would need to be funded through the annual appropriations bill, which may prove difficult. The difficulty stems from the spending caps now in place because of President Joe Biden’s debt ceiling deal with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican.

    According to the bill’s text, institutions that meet the following criteria would be given priority for federal grants:

    • Programs that can demonstrate the school’s faculty shortage is the reason it hasn’t been able to accept more nursing students
    • Institutions located within a city or state with an above-average nurse faculty shortage
    • Programs that promise to prioritize recruiting nurse faculty from “disadvantaged backgrounds,” low-income individuals, and first-generation college students
    • Programs that prioritize recruiting full-time faculty

    Institutions that receive a grant through this act must use funds to hire new nursing faculty or clinical preceptors, increase pay for existing faculty, and create opportunities to turn nursing students into future faculty.

    This may help address some of the key contributors to the faculty shortage.

    A NurseJournal analysis of data found that it’s often difficult to fill open faculty positions because college programs cannot offer competitive salaries compared to clinical jobs. Advanced practice registered nurses make tens of thousands of dollars per year more than nurse educators, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    It is also difficult for institutions to find doctorally prepared faculty and the proper mix of faculty from different specialties.

    The following organizations support the Support Faculty and Expand Access to Nursing School Act, according to Rep. Schiff:

    • American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)
    • American Association of Colleges of Nursing
    • American Organization for Nursing Leadership
    • United Nurses Associations of California/ Union of Health Care Professionals (UNAC/UHCP)
    • California Hospital Association
    • California Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems

    “Building the pipeline of nurses is critically important to patient care and this legislation will generate meaningful progress toward a healthier California,” said Carmela Coyle, president and CEO of the California Hospital Association, in a statement.