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A new report by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, examines barriers in higher education that contribute to the nation’s nursing shortages and how policy makers can help colleges and universities train more nurses.

The report, released Monday, points out that universities turn away “tens of thousands of qualified students” from nursing programs every year because of a lack of capacity. Meanwhile, nurses fatigued by the emotional toll of the pandemic have left the profession in droves. The report notes that the nursing workforce decreased by 3 percent from 2020 to 2021, the largest drop in more than two decades.

Campuses struggle to register more nursing students because of an ongoing lack of nursing educators, limited clinical placements for student nurses and insufficient space to accommodate more students, according to the report.

The report urges Congress to consider a series of policy solutions, such as giving more funding to nursing schools for laboratories and equipment and passing a bill that would offer competitive grants to nursing schools—especially at minority-serving institutions—to enhance their programs and better respond to public health crises.

“As policymakers look to fortify our health care system in the wake of the pandemic, fixing the national nursing shortage by investing in America’s higher education system to graduate more nurses, boosting national and state coordination efforts to support the nursing pipeline, and retaining nurses should be top priorities,” Jesse O’Connell, senior vice president for education at CAP, said in a press release.