A lack of faculty, an insufficient number of classroom slots, and an aging population are coming together to worsen a nursing shortage in New Jersey.

Three years ago, the Robert Wood Johnson and New Jersey Chamber of Commerce Foundations provided $22 million for a program to recruit, educate, and retain full-time nursing faculty.

Known as the New Jersey Nursing Initiative, its supporters and officials now report they are making headway on the faculty front - but current projections show the state has a long way to go in addressing the shortage.

On Monday, foundation and initiative officials appeared before the state Senate's health committee and reported that thanks to the program, 61 scholars had obtained, or were pursuing, master's degrees or doctorates in exchange for becoming full-time nursing teachers in New Jersey.

"In 2009, when the New Jersey Nursing Initiative first launched, it was an unprecedented experiment in addressing the nurse faculty shortage in one state," John Lumpkin, director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Health Care Group, said in his prepared testimony. "I am pleased to be able to report: We are making real progress."

The foundation underscored its support recently by extending the program and providing an additional $8 million.

Lumpkin said the foundation had given about $1.5 billion to health programs in New Jersey and "nothing makes us prouder than our support for the New Jersey Nursing Initiative," reported NJ Spotlight, an online news service.

According to foundation-supported studies, New Jersey has about 300 full-time nursing faculty members and a vacancy rate of 10.5 percent.

The addition of more instructors will help fill the vacancy gap and create slots for more students, but current projections conjure a challenging picture.

According to the initiative, New Jersey will have to increase the number of students graduating from nursing schools from about 2,000 a year to 6,000 to head off a shortfall of 23,000 nurses who will be needed by 2030.

At the same time, nurses are aging out as the population grows older.

The average age for nurses in New Jersey is 51, and 55 for faculty, about 75 of whom are expected to retire in the next five years, the initiative reported.

Susan Bakewell-Sachs, the nursing initiative's program director and interim provost at the College of New Jersey, said that besides helping nurses continue their education and become teachers, the program was developing curriculum models that can be duplicated elsewhere to increase the number of higher-degree educators.

"We're not keeping up with the demand for nursing doctorates," she said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

Faculty shortages resulted in about 55,000 qualified nursing candidates being turned away from schools across the country in 2009, according to the American Nursing Association.

"We're not in this alone," Bakewell-Sachs said.

Contact Joseph Gambardello at 856-779-3844 or jgambardello@phillynews.com.