Amid a nursing shortage that is worsening poor health outcomes in Mississippi, nursing programs at the state’s public universities are turning away hundreds of potential students every year because of insufficient faculty sizes. Alfred Rankins Jr., Mississippi’s commissioner of higher education, said at a legislative hearing Tuesday that nursing programs have struggled to retain faculty members because of the state’s lower-than-average salaries for public university employees. “Unfortunately, our nursing programs must turn away approximately 300 qualified nursing applicants each year because of limited faculty numbers,” Rankins said. The Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning is requesting a $5 million increase in state funds for the fiscal year that begins July 1 to beef up nursing faculties at public universities, which Rankins said will help alleviate the shortage. About 73% of nursing graduates in Mississippi still work in the state after five years, according to the agency.