Around the state, more than 800 qualified nursing school applicants are turned away each year. The primary reason? Vacant faculty positions mean there are not enough nurse educators to teach the courses, even though programs have available student slots.
After hearing about difficulties hiring new nursing deans and directors, and increasingly high turnover among their ranks, the Washington Center for Nursing (WCN) worked with the Council of Nursing Education in Washington State (CNEWS) to survey nurse educators in the state. The survey identified that the number one reason nurse educators consider leaving their positions was low pay, followed by lack of a manageable workload. In addition, the survey found that 38% of community and technical college nursing faculty and 40% of four-year college and university nursing faculty expect to retire by 2027.
This survey made clear that immediate action was needed to recruit and retain highly qualified nursing faculty in our state’s higher education institutions. Soon afterward, a joint effort by the Nursing Care Quality Assurance Commission, WCN and CNEWS created Action Now!
Action Now! worked to identify a salary increase that would be meaningful to Washington’s nurse educators — and that would put them on par with registered nurses working in local hospitals and nurses working in state agencies (the latter of whom had received a 26.5% salary increase from the state in 2017).
WSNA, together with SEIU Healthcare 1199NW and UFCW 21, made nurse educator funding a legislative priority in 2019 — talking with lawmakers about the need to increase nurse educator salaries in order to ultimately increase the state’s output of new nurse graduates.
In the 2019 legislative session, a solution came in House Bill 2158, the Workforce Education Investment Act, sponsored by Representative Drew Hansen (D-Kitsap). This bill appropriated nearly $375 million to address student needs in terms of grants, scholarships and loan repayment programs and workforce development. It included $60.8 million for increasing nurse educator salaries and high-demand program faculty salaries at community and technical colleges — $40 million of which was designated “solely to increase nurse educator salaries.”
In advocating for these funds, WSNA and the other nursing unions emphasized to lawmakers that nursing faculty, who are required to have earned a master’s degree in order to teach, were very often making less than new registered nurses graduating from two-year programs and going to work as staff nurses in local hospitals. This gross disparity led to nursing faculty positions going unfilled, sometimes for years, and ultimately, resulted in our state’s higher education institutions turning away 800 qualified nursing school applicants each year.
“It was totally unacceptable that our community colleges turned away hundreds of students from nursing programs because they didn’t have nursing faculty,” said Representative Hansen. “The solution was simple: Raise nurse educator pay. We worked very closely with our WEA and AFT partners to come up with an equitable way to raise pay so we could attract and retain nursing faculty. I’m already hearing from colleges that this is, in the words of one President, a game-changer.”
Karen Strickland, president of AFT Washington, said, “In the last session, the legislature recognized the cost to students when the state doesn’t pay faculty adequate salaries. Nursing isn’t the only field where teachers are underpaid, but it’s a high-profile example with an immediately obvious cost to students and to patients. At AFT, we’re looking forward to working with allies to build on HB 2158’s investment in high-demand programs by fighting for increased compensation for all faculty. HB 2158 — along with the rest and meal break victory — is a powerful example of the value of working in coalition!”