Effective ways to tackle nursing student attrition

Did you know 1 in 5 nursing students drop out of nursing school on average?

The Bureau of Labor...

Did you know 1 in 5 nursing students drop out of nursing school on average?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics' Employment Projections reports nursing jobs are projected to rise 6% through 2031, with a large portion of the nursing workforce aging out due to retirement.

It’s evident that the nursing profession will undergo a workforce transition over the next decade or so. Nursing programs will bear the brunt of the pressure to keep their students enrolled and prepared to carry the baton for the next generation of nurses.

Employing well-grounded strategies and understanding the student experience are the key aspects of devising a nursing retention effort that is most likely to be successful. In this article, we highlight the challenges nursing programs are facing with student retention and share industry best practices in a successful nursing program.

Nursing student retention is keeping the student matriculated in nursing school all the way through graduation- which is no simple undertaking. According to the National League of Nurses, 20% of nursing students drop out. There are several reasons for that statistic, including:

  • Unsustainable student debt
  • High academic demands
  • Modest salary expectations
  • Difficulty with the ins and outs of the job (needles, blood, math, etc.)
  • Threat of violence
  • Administrative pressure
  • Balancing school and home life

Why is nursing student retention important?

Simply put, the future of healthcare depends on nurses continuing to enter the workforce.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are over 3 million nursing jobs in the United States. With the industry anticipated to grow 6% by 2031. When factoring in the continued downward trend of workers participating in the workforce due to workers naturally aging out of the workforce, occupations like nursing, while being in demand, are going to face issues getting qualified workers to fill those roles.

Nursing programs have an important role to play in helping meet the demand within the nursing field. 

What retention efforts can nursing schools undertake? And even more, which efforts should they prioritize based on how successful they have been at other institutions?

What nursing student retention efforts are successful?

Successful retention efforts are all about taking a multi-faceted approach. There is no single program that will prove the answer to nursing school retention difficulties. 

The best approach to retention is taking a look at some of the factors by which students feel pressure and need relief:

  • Student Mentorship
  • Financial Hardship
  • Peer Support
  • Academic Stress

Nursing student mentorship

For many nursing students, their first taste of professional life as a nurse doesn’t start until their third year in university. But nursing programs like at Loyola (LA) University have employed several interesting aspects to the nursing program to keep students engaged and excited about pursuing the work.

For starters, the faculty at Loyola almost all still work clinically. This gives them a lot of stories from the field to share and recent firsthand wisdom to impart to students. This makes students feel more prepared going into their first internship or full-time job as a result.

Another effective part of Loyola’s program that helps with retention is placing students in supervised internships earlier than most nursing schools. At Loyola, students have exposure to working in a hospital setting during the first semester of their sophomore year. This is a year earlier than most schools and helps to build excitement and a sense of reward for students.

Financial hardship for nursing students

The cost of college is far from a nursing student issue alone. But we can still have sympathy for a student body who faces a grueling academic and professional life with a limited pay ceiling without very advanced degrees.

Programs like RN-to-BSN pathways can help lower the financial hardship on students and allow them to get to their professional life without incurring too much debt. Northwestern Oklahoma State University and Northern Oklahoma College Enid created one such program recently that creatively addressed the financial hardship challenge.

The program designed by the partnering schools allows students to obtain their associate’s registered nurse degree at NOC Enid within six semesters and apply to Northwestern’s RN-to-BSN program. Once at Northwestern, the student is able to complete their bachelor’s degree within three semesters.

Nursing schools struggling to get students to finish nursing programs because of financial hardship could be wise to look at partnership programs with neighboring schools or businesses to create similar pathways to the one created by NOC Enid and Northwestern Oklahoma. 

This other program by UL Lafayette is another creative example to lower financial hardship. In this example, the university partnered with a local regional healthcare provider to accelerate BSN accreditation for students with bachelor's degrees in other disciplines who maintained a strong GPA.

In another example of an effective pathway for RN-to-BSN programs, Medical University of South Carolina has established multiple articulation agreements with many South Carolina state technical schools to provide a discount to ADN graduates from those schools who enroll in the RN-BSN program. 

Peer support

Nursing academia can be a lonely experience. By some counts, students say they have to study up to 2 to 3 hours per day in order to keep up with coursework.

This is why it’s important for students to foster a strong peer support group. Nursing programs would be wise to help create strong peer support groups or student organizations. These types of student-run bodies can allow students to share their concerns, exchange study tips, and provide emotional support to one another.

Strong student support centers are other ways to give students the support they need to get through tougher periods of nursing school. All students go through rough patches: grades drop, social life anxieties, family problems, difficulty balancing school and work. Having support centers can serve as vital lifelines to keep students engaged.

Creating dedicated spaces where students can meet and discuss their school challenges with each other, as well as creating online communities through EdTech solutions or discord communities or even Facebook Groups are other great ways for students to feel connected during their academic experience. These kinds of groups could also be great to involve alumni - who can be another invaluable resource to the student experience.

Academic Stress

The risk of burnout among students rises every year.

Having programs and events in place within your school can help students cope with the academic demands of nursing school. Things like yoga or meditation are beneficial events to have regularly and encourage students to participate in. Focusing on mental health and well-being has a positive impact on students managing stress in the classroom.

Similarly, being creative with the academic experience can also help students by meeting their learning preferences where they’re at. The University of Kansas recently introduced a Metaversity, which include several virtual classroom experiences where students are able to do more hands-on work virtually via a VR headset. 

Nursing student retention through technology

You can help your nursing students improve their experience with your program by implementing the right technology. Consider partnering with a software vendor who understands how to mitigate the unique complexities from your clinical education management and improve necessary processes like competency assessments

By enabling students to simply showcase their best work and easing the burden of them managing their coursework, the right technology partner can be a major beneficiary to the student retention challenges of today’s nursing schools.

CORE Higher Ed Team


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