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A New Bipartisan Proposal Would Increase Class Sizes at Nursing Schools: What You Need to Know

Matthew Arrojas
Updated October 5, 2023
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    How a multibillion-dollar proposal would benefit nursing workforce development and education programs.
    Nursing lecturer talking to students in classroomCredit: Getty Images
    • U.S. Senators recently introduced the Primary Care and Health Workforce Expansion Act.
    • The proposal includes $5.6 billion over five years for programs that benefit nurses.
    • Approximately $3 billion would go to colleges and universities to help increase the number of nursing school graduates.

    A bipartisan proposal aims to address the nursing shortage by injecting over $3 billion into colleges and universities across the U.S.

    Senators introduced the Primary Care and Health Workforce Expansion Act in September, which would increase funding for many government programs benefiting nurses and nursing students. Highlights of the bill include $3 billion in grants for college nursing programs, over $1 billion to provide student loan repayment to nurses, and $500 million in incentives to lure former nurses back into the profession.

    Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who caucuses with Senate Democrats, and Republican Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas, co-introduced the bill on Sept. 19.

    “Community health care centers are a vital player in addressing the health care challenges we face today,” Sen. Marshall said in a statement. “Our bill also recognizes and addresses the challenges our healthcare industry is facing, like the shortage of nurses and primary care doctors, and includes programs to bolster the workforce in a fiscally responsible way.”

    It’s clear that the nursing shortage was a primary concern when crafting this bill, given the funding that would go toward addressing the issue.

    Investments include a $1.2 billion grant program for colleges and universities with a nursing program. According to a summary of the proposal, the government would award funds to these institutions with the goal of schools increasing the number of nursing faculty and students and modernizing their nursing programs.

    Institutions that receive a grant would be required to increase faculty salaries and increase class sizes by 20% over five years.

    The Primary Care and Health Workforce Expansion Act would also set aside $2 billion over five years to expand associate of science in nursing (ASN) programs. The government would award grants to community colleges and state universities to increase faculty, improve facilities, and expand class sizes for two-year programs.

    Sens. Sanders and Marshall also include some provisions to help specific nursing specialties.

    Nurse midwives, for example, would benefit from $175 million over five years to support midwifery and nurse-midwifery education programs.

    The bill also funds the Family Nurse Practitioner Training Program at $50 million per year for $250 million over five years.

    Clinical nurses who have left the profession may also see some of these funds. The Primary Care and Health Workforce Expansion Act allocates $500 million over five years to provide incentives to those who have left clinical nursing. Nurses who have been out of the workforce for at least two years are eligible for a $20,000 bonus if they agree to return to nursing full-time in an underserved community for at least two years.

    This proposal would also invest in scholarship and loan repayment programs for nurses.

    The bill would allocate $1.4 billion over the next five years to expand the Nurse Corps Scholarship and Loan Repayment Program. This program rewards nurses working in a high-needs community by repaying part or all of their remaining student loan debt.

    It also reauthorizes and funds the Nurse Faculty Loan Program at $57 million annually over five years. This forgivable loan program rewards nurses who go on to teach as faculty after graduation. Nursing faculty can have up to 85% of the loan forgiven after four years of teaching and instruction.

    Altogether, this proposal would allocate $5.6 billion over five years for programs aimed at nurses, nursing students, and nursing faculty.