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Debt Hobbles Nurse Education, Impeding Career Growth

By Jennifer Thew RN  
   June 20, 2017

Nurse leaders pushing for nurses to obtain BSNs need to understand that college debt can slow nurses' academic progression, and has negative implications for those on a leadership track.

Students are graduating from college with significant amounts of educational debt—in 2015 the average student borrower had $30,100 in loans upon graduation—and a recently published study finds that nurses are no different.

When Jan Jones-Schenk, DHSc, RN, NE-BC, national director for the college of health professions at Western Governors University, surveyed 1,299 working nurses for the study, 62% of the respondents reported they had prior college debt.

More than 39% of those with debt said their debt ranged from $1 to $24,999 while 23.5% reported debt greater than $25,000. Approximately one-third of the respondents said they had no prior college debt.

"Some had debt as high as $100,000, and 7% reported debt greater than $50,000. That's a lifetime of debt," Jones-Schenk says.

The study also found that educational debt influences nurses' decisions about academic progression.

"The data showed that most of the people who have an education plan are going to go on, and they have debt," she says.

"But if they have more than $10,000 in college debt they're going to delay their educational advancement so they're not going to go on as quickly."

Debt's Influence on Education Decisions

When the National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine) report, "The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health," was released in 2010, it had very specific recommendations on the educational preparation of RNs.

The report called for 80% of nurses to hold a baccalaureate degree by 2020, and for the number of nurses with doctorate degrees to double during that time as well.

Jennifer Thew, RN, is the senior nursing editor at HealthLeaders.


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