At Nursing School, bracing for hard times

An increase in applications does not always spell steady enrollment, and the Yale School of Nursing is embracing this fact. Staff reporters Raymond Carlson and Florence Dethy investigate.

As the decline in Yale’s endowment continues to affect budgets across the University, the Nursing School is crafting a conservative budget for the coming year, in case enrollment at the highly tuition-dependent school declines. While the school has a seen a 10 percent increase in applications this year, Yale School of Nursing Dean Margaret Grey said the school is planning for a possible decline in enrollment.

The School of Nursing is bracing for a drop in enrollment resulting from the current economic downturn. Administrators cite financial aid and loan concerns as primary deterrents for potential Nursing School applicants.
Raymond Carlson
The School of Nursing is bracing for a drop in enrollment resulting from the current economic downturn. Administrators cite financial aid and loan concerns as primary deterrents for potential Nursing School applicants.

“While we have extraordinarily strong applications this year,” Grey said, “It’s not clear we will be able to bring in the size of class we have for the past five to 10 years.”

UNABLE TO PAY

Indeed, the lucky students accepted to the Yale School of Nursing this year may also decline to attend in greater numbers.

Given the credit crunch, many prospective Nursing School students who would need to take out loans to finance their education may not be able to get the necessary loans or be willing to shoulder the debt they would face upon graduation, Grey said.

As such, the School of Nursing’s business office is laying out a budget for next year based on conservative enrollment numbers, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Frank Grosso said.

“Just in case a number of applicants don’t come for whatever reason, [the Nursing School] is trying to put together a budget based on lower numbers,” Grosso said. “We’re trying to be very conservative, very strategic.”

On average, nursing students graduate with about $100,000 of debt, Grey said, a figure that is marginally lower than that physicians face.

For this reason, though the Nursing School is making budget cuts of 7.5 percent, consistent with Yale-wide policy, Grey said the school is tentatively also planning to increase the amount of financial aid available to its students by 5 percent.

Still, even if aid does increase, the fact remains that at the School of Nursing, like at several other Yale professional schools, scholarship funds can be “limited,” said Director of Student Financial Services Caesar Storlazzi. Additionally, many of the scholarship funds available to nursing students are merit-based, rather than need-based, he said.

Nonetheless, Grey said, as the Nursing School increases its financial aid, it hopes to dispel students’ worries that they will be unable to finance their nursing education.

“My largest concern is that students who rely on loans are worried they will be more difficult to get,” Grey said.

LOOMING LOANS

Despite the planned increase in financial aid, many nursing students will inevitably need to take out loans.

Ironically, Storlazzi said, it is the certainty of nursing students’ future income that reinforces the notion they can borrow to finance their education.

“There’s the thinking that once a nurse graduates, there’ll be a stronger stream of income,” he said. “So a nurse can borrow heavily and end up paying back the loan.”

Still, while private student loans may be difficult for students to acquire, there is no funding shortage for federal student loans, said Justin Drager, vice president for development of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

Drager said the majority of students take federal student loans as opposed to private student loans.

But not all students can take out federal loans, Storlazzi said. Some students, such as international students, are ineligible for federal loans and could run into difficulties, he added, although Yale has an international loan program of $6-7 million to support international students.

When asked what options are available to students if they are unable to find lending sources, Storlazzi said students have limited resources. “Unless students can find another way to pay, they’ll need to tap out family members [for money],” he said.

SAFE FROM THE ECONOMIC STORM

On the other hand, the nursing profession has been relatively insulated from the recession, Grey said, a fact that may be behind the 10 percent increase in applications the school has seen this year. Because of the nationwide nursing shortage, nursing school students are essentially guaranteed employment upon graduation, Grey said. (To meet the nursing need in the United States, an additional 30,000 nurses should be graduating annually, according to a statement released in March 2008 by the Council on Physician and Nurse Supply.)

Still, as the Nursing School continues to determine how it will cut its budget, it is waiting to find out if any of its researchers will benefit from federal stimulus funding that is being doled out by the National Institute of Health.

Since the extra funding the NIH receives from the stimulus must be spent on one- to two-year grants, Grey said the body is looking to fund high-cost, quick turnaround projects it was unable to fund given its previous budget. At present, a number of Nursing School faculty have projects that are candidates for the additional funding. If their research is funded, it could also create jobs for residents in the greater New Haven community, Grey said.

Budget cuts notwithstanding, the School of Nursing is in a much better position than many of its peers in terms of its finances, Grey said.

“Many other places are looking at salary cuts in the 5 to 10 percent range and looking at staff reductions and hiring freezes,” Grey said. “We are nowhere near as bad off as many other places.”

Comments

  • Anonymous

    Economic recession makes it all the more crucial that any professors or students involved with health care honestly report any funding from the pharmaceutical or other profit-making companies. I hope the budget directors and professors report any connections at all.

    Sen Grassley has focused on doctors, but not so much on nurses.

  • Anonymous

    Another problem is that the school cannot keep its best faculty members.