Legislature invests $40 million to retain and recruit nurse educators

200204 nurse ed invest

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!”