Best Online Bachelor’s Degrees in Respiratory Therapy: Guide to Online Programs for 2022

Best Online Bachelor’s Degrees in Respiratory Therapy: Guide to Online Programs for 2022
Imed Bouchrika, Phd by Imed Bouchrika, Phd
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

The World Health Organization reports that each year 7 million people die from air pollution (World Health Organization, 2019). In the midst of this, respiratory health is also being attacked by various pathogens that easily transfer from one host to another. Specialists in respiratory health are needed, and the online bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy will be in high demand.

This program prepares students by providing lessons and best practices on respiratory care, asthma education, pulmonary rehabilitation, disease management, and neonatal care. As with nursing degrees, the online bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy also provides training on healthcare procedures.

This guide puts the spotlight on the factors that constitute the best online bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy programs. Students will know the requirements, costs, and the things to expect when taking up this particular degree. It can also help them decide on whether they should take the program on-campus or online.

Online Bachelor’s Degree in Respiratory Therapy Table of Contents

  1. Can you get a degree completely online?
  2. Will employers take my online degree seriously?
  3. Are online degrees recognized all over the world?
  4. Online Vs. Traditional Bachelor’s Degree in Respiratory Therapy
  5. How much does an online bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy cost?
  6. What are the requirements of an online bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy?
  7. Courses to Expect in an Online Bachelor’s Degree in Respiratory Therapy
  8. Things to Look for in an Online Bachelor’s Degree in Respiratory Therapy

Can you get a degree completely online?

Many postsecondary institutions offer bachelor’s degrees in respiratory therapy that are fully online, and there are also some that conduct hybrid degrees, which combine online and on-campus learning. The fully online programs often require learners to earn an associate degree in respiratory care before they can apply. This means that many of the students are already registered respiratory therapists. As it is directly linked to an associate degree, the program can often be completed in two years, with the associate courses credited.

When learners complete a bachelor’s degree, they gain a deeper understanding of the practice, accounting for intensive types of research methods, differentiating the idiosyncrasies in practice and management activities. This sets them up for potential promotions to managerial positions or a higher position in a related department. The career outcomes include becoming a respiratory department manager, case manager, health educator, and neonatal respiratory specialist.

As for the ideal employment sectors to enter, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reveal that outpatient care centers afford the highest annual wages for respiratory therapists, with an average of $87,920, followed by postsecondary institutions ($71,180) and residential care facilities ($66,620) (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020). Respiratory therapists generally have high salaries that significantly increase when they move to higher positions after completing post-graduate programs.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2020

Will employers take my online degree seriously?

Serving as front-liners in the fight against COVID-19, the healthcare industry knows full well the impact of the pandemic on the lives of people, and this includes education. Distance learning became not just an alternative but a new norm for higher education. As such, employers in the healthcare industry take online degree programs seriously and treat them as regular degrees.

Moreover, the demand for respiratory therapists is high, given that COVID-19 chiefly affects the respiratory systems. The employment of these specialists is projected to increase by 19% from 2019 until 2029 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021). This outpaces the general job growth of healthcare practitioners over the same period, which is at 10%.

Are online degrees recognized all over the world?

The U.S. demand for respiratory therapists is high, and it could be even higher in other countries, particularly those dealing with transmissible variants of COVID-19 as well as nations that lack vaccines. The COVID-19’s impact on a nation influences the need for respiratory therapists. After all, they specialize in handling respiratory equipment.

If we look at the numbers, the global market for respiratory care devices is slated to increase from $23.97 billion in 2020 to $39.76 billion in 2027, with an annual growth rate of 8.8% (360 Research Reports, 2021). The rise in the number of devices leads to a spike in demand for respiratory therapists. This has exposed the shortage of these experts in the United States (Hicks, 2021) and possibly in other countries that were ravaged worse by the coronavirus.

With this, online degree programs will not be viewed any differently from traditional ones in other parts of the world. The more pressing concern for some of these nations is to increase the number of respiratory therapists within their shores. This means graduates will have plenty of employment opportunities locally. Jobs abroad may also be available to you. However, make sure to check if they will require you to take up additional courses or graduate certificate programs as each country has different medical standards.

As for scholastic opportunities, associate degree holders can take a bachelor’s degree to set themselves up for a managerial position, which pays higher. Currently, 62% of respiratory therapists hold associate degrees (Zippia, 2021), and this share could become respiratory department managers or medical health and services managers should they decide to pursue their studies.

Source: Zippia 2021

Online Vs. Traditional Bachelor’s Degree in Respiratory Therapy

Respiratory therapy is a hands-on practice that entails extensive knowledge of respiratory ailments and treatments as well as handling medical equipment. In the absence of labs where students can practice, online degree programs have devised ways to circumvent the physical aspect of hands-on courses through internet-based demonstrations and videos. In addition, emphasis is placed on theories and practices surrounding treatments, neonatal care, pulmonary rehabilitation, and patient advocacy.

On-campus and online bachelor’s degrees are clearly different in many ways. Among which are the following:

  • Learning Experience: Traditional degrees offer a more immersive hands-on experience as schools have the facilities to simulate what respiratory therapists practice, from the treatment processes to the equipment used. Online degree programs, on the other hand, offer training videos or online demonstrations that learners can observe and emulate. Both degree types focus heavily on advanced concepts and reviewing medical literature to deepen the students’ understanding of respiratory therapy.
  • Format: Online degrees can be taken at any conducive location with a stable internet connection. Meanwhile, traditional ones require students to travel to campus every school day. Although some online programs follow a similar format as traditional degrees, many programs furnish asynchronous classes that allow students to take courses at their own pace. There are also hybrid programs that combine online and on-campus classes.
  • Schedule: Traditional respiratory therapy degrees have a fixed schedule as outlined in the curriculum, with the students completing the program at the suggested time should they receive passing marks on all their courses. On the other hand, a lot of online degrees have asynchronous courses that afford learners the freedom to set their own schedules. Suggested timetables are given to online students to possibly pattern their schedules after.
  • Duration: A lot of online and on-campus respiratory therapy bachelor’s degrees come as career advancement programs, which associate degree holders take to deepen their knowledge of the practice and gain access to higher positions in the professional realm. Such programs can typically be completed in around two years or less. Meanwhile, standard on-campus degrees can be finished in four years while the duration of online ones is dependent on the learning pace of students.
  • Cost: Respiratory therapy degrees have a wide spectrum of tuition fees since the costs involve numerous factors like the use of medical facilities and instruments, instructor salaries, and state standards. For online degree programs, the annual tuition cost can fall between $7,000 and $31,000. On-campus degrees charge around $11,000 to $30,000 for each semester.
  • Flexibility: Traditional degrees are more rigid as they compel students to attend face-to-face classes and follow a fixed schedule throughout their stay in school. On the other hand, online programs afford learners the luxury of taking courses whenever they prefer and at any location of their choosing.

Is an online degree cheaper?

Online bachelor’s degrees in respiratory therapy are normally cheaper than their on-campus counterparts for several reasons. Students of traditional degrees have to shoulder expenses on the usage of the school’s medical facilities and instruments, board and room fees, and miscellaneous study-related charges. They also have to pay for transportation, living, and restaurant/cafeteria food expenses. Online students do not need to deal with these expenditures, although technology-related charges and instructor salaries are incorporated into their tuition fees.

Is an online degree as good as a regular degree?

While traditional degrees have a clear advantage when it comes to hands-on experience, online degree programs effectively simulate every procedure that students learn through instructional videos and live demonstrations. Any question or clarification can be conducted through the school’s learning management system or a videoconferencing application. As for the theoretical side of the curriculum, the offerings of both traditional and online programs are pretty much equal. With this, an online degree in respiratory therapy is as good as a traditional one.

When students graduate, they are faced with a potentially promising career in the healthcare industry. Regardless of employment, professionals with a bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy earn $73,646 each year on average. This amount leaps to around $88,000 if they become a respiratory therapy manager.

How much does an online bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy cost?

Online bachelor’s degrees in respiratory therapy have a wide range of tuition fees. The annual charges cost anywhere between $7,000 and $31,000, with the rate influenced by factors like medical facilities and equipment for demonstrations, coursework, and technology-related expenses. As such, students are advised to view several options before deciding on a school so they could apply for a degree with the most agreeable terms.

The tuition fees of traditional respiratory therapy bachelor’s degrees, on the other hand, are within the $11,000-$30,000 range per semester. This is pricier than online degrees as the tuition costs factor in a host of expenditures, starting with medical facilities and equipment, board and room fees, and standard district or state charges for in-state, out-of-state, and international learners. Hidden costs such as transportation, rent, and the price of restaurant services are likewise shouldered by students.

There are more affordable options like associate degrees and certificate programs, which can land learners entry-level jobs, However, these programs lack the depth that could set up graduates for higher positions, which is why many of those who have associate degrees eventually pursue a bachelor’s degree, even when they already have work experience.

If we consolidate the costs of all online respiratory therapy programs, inclusive of the cheaper options, the average annual fees for undergraduates would be $5,799 for in-state students and $12,952 for out-of-state learners (College Tuition Compare, 2021). Meanwhile, online graduate programs cost $9,720 in-state and $19,259 out-of-state.

Is an online bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy worth it?

Respiratory therapists were some of the least affected professionals at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, posting only a 19% decrease in job postings from March to April 2020, far lower than the over 70% experienced by other occupations (Burning Glass Technologies, 2020). Shortly after, respiratory therapist jobs in the United States surged (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021) since these professionals were needed to treat and manage the respiratory ailments caused by COVID-19. This lends to the high compensation of professionals who hold respiratory therapy bachelor’s degrees.

That said, an online bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy is worth it. Not only do learners gain access to a resilient and perpetually relevant industry, but they also have plenty of career opportunities in any place in the world that is battling COVID-19. The global demand for respiratory therapists is high while the significance of the practice has been verified by research and clinical results.

In a 2021 study titled “Clinical Outcomes of Severe COVID-19 Patients Admitted to an Intermediate Respiratory Care Unit,” published in Frontiers in Medicine, it was revealed that intermediate respiratory care units (IMCUs) “may be useful tools for the multidisciplinary management of severe COVID-19 patients requiring non-invasive respiratory support and monitoring, therefore helping to reduce ICU burden (Suarez-Cuartin et al., 2021).” Upon analyzing clinical outcomes, the researchers deduced that the “results may help to further validate the feasibility of IMCU during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Source: Burning Glass Technologies 2020

What are the requirements of an online bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy?

Before a student can enroll in a postsecondary institution, a host of documents have to be submitted by applicants, from copies of diplomas to proof of competency in various subjects. The requirements can sometimes vary per school, but there are those considered staples for any postsecondary application. Institutions also have lists of projected outcomes that highlight the skills learners should have learned while in school.

Admission Requirements

  • Minimum GPA of 2.0 to 2.5: Receiving a grade of at least 2.0 to 2.5 signifies that a learner has proficiency in all the relevant knowledge areas. Students whose GPAs are lower can raise their grades by taking extra courses in community colleges.
  • Associate Degree in Respiratory Care: If applying for a bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy that is a career development program, applicants must present their diploma and other proof of earning an associate degree in respiratory care. In most cases, the core courses must have a cumulative grade of at least “C” (American Association for Respiratory Care, 2015).”
  • Transcript: Transcripts are to be submitted for two reasons. Firstly, it serves as proof that the applicant has graduated from high school or earned an associate degree. Secondly, it is used by the receiving institution to assess an applicant’s abilities. Students can obtain it themselves or have their previous institution mail it to all the schools they are applying to.
  • Accomplished Application Form: The foremost need of any application is an accomplished application form. It can be downloaded from the websites of postsecondary institutions. Accompanying an accomplished form is a cover letter or essay that contains why the applicant is qualified for the online degree program as well as the application fee payment.
  • Standardized Test Scores: Some schools require applicants to submit the scores for standardized tests like the SAT or the ACT. The grade requirements tend to vary. But to be on the safe side, the ACT suggests earning scores of at least 68 in English, 50 in Reading, 40 in Math, and 37 in Science for programs on healthcare professions and services (ACT, 2019).
  • Letters of Recommendation: Applicants are required to submit letters from their former professors and/or employers. They detail the character, work ethic, behavior, and the general experience of being with the applicant.

General Requirements

  • Proficiency in Respiratory Treatments: To earn at least a “C” in a respiratory care associate, a student must be knowledgeable about the treatments for various respiratory ailments. Moreover, learners must be able to perform methods like chest physiotherapy and aerosol medications (Truity, 2020).
  • Proficiency in Diagnoses: By the end of the program, students are expected to be competent in performing diagnostic tests like assessing a patient’s lung capacity (Truity, 2020). This allows them to identify ailments and the patient’s health, on which the treatments will be based.
  • Communication: Communication is of utmost importance in respiratory care or any health-related profession for that matter. Professionals are expected to work closely with doctors and nurses and manage the expectations of patients. For these procedures to produce exceptional results, good communication is necessary.
  • Commitment to Growth: Respiratory therapy leads to managerial positions and even an option for professionals to run their own businesses (American Association for Respiratory Care, 2017). For these to happen, students must be dedicated to expanding their knowledge and skills in the practice. This could mean deepening their understanding of ailments and treatments and pursuing further education.

What are the technological requirements of students for online learning?

  • Computer: A desktop or laptop is where a student takes a program’s courses in place of a classroom. As such, it is necessary to have one for online degree programs. The software used by postsecondary institutions could be any from the list of learning management systems for schools and universities, which means the technological requirements tend to vary. To be safe, purchase a computer with decent performance and large memory.
  • Updated Browser: Updating internet browsers like Chrome and Firefox allows them to support applications with complex or advanced components, including the learning management systems (LMS) leveraged by schools. Doing so means all of the LMS’s functionalities will be running smoothly, barring any bugs in the programming.
  • Stable Internet Connection: To access any of the online degree courses in an LMS, a high-speed internet connection is needed. A DSL or cable-based connection would suffice. Fast wi-fi networks also work, provided that the connection is uninterrupted.
  • Webcam and Headset: A webcam and a headset are necessary since they are used by students to communicate with their classmates and instructors. If the LMS does not support video conferencing and file sharing, a learner will need to download applications for those.

An additional consideration is the physical location of learners despite the classes being conducted online. Not all cities grant respiratory therapists the same standard compensation, so it is better to be situated in or near a high-paying city. Based on the latest figures, Turlock offers the highest average annual salary at $71,274, followed by Boston ($64,161) and Washington ($64,139) (Zippia, 2021).

Courses to Expect in an Online Bachelor’s Degree in Respiratory Therapy

Although respiratory therapy programs cater to a specialized branch of medicine, these impart skills and knowledge in a wide variety of areas. Aside from respiratory care, the online degree courses may touch on relevant fields like cardiopulmonary physiology, pharmacology, and the American Healthcare System. In addition, the programs typically contain a course on leadership development as the students are being groomed to become future managers or senior staff members.

The curricula of schools may vary, but the following courses are often found in online respiratory therapy programs:

  • Advanced Cardiopulmonary Physiology: This course centers on the physiology of the cardiopulmonary system as well as the functions of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. The topics to be tackled include cell biology, respiratory insufficiency, and breathing regulation, as well as their clinical applications. Ailments in the aforesaid biological systems will also be studied.
  • Advanced Cardiopulmonary Assessment: This course focuses on assessing a patient’s cardiopulmonary status through the integration of physical findings, diagnostic testing, and medical history. Students will also learn to interpret data in different testing areas using instruments like electrocardiograms, x-rays, and equipment for advanced pulmonary function testing. In addition, they get to develop respiratory care plans based on assessments.
  • Advanced Respiratory Care: Students of career development programs already have a firm grasp of the fundamentals of respiratory care. As such, courses that tackle this topic deepen one’s understanding of the practice. The lessons include the need, benefits, disadvantages, management, and operation of mechanical ventilatory assistance. The subject also expands the students’ knowledge and skills in making assessments.
  • Pharmacology in Disease Management: This course explores the facts surrounding pharmacology and how they apply to respiratory care. The lessons touch on how applied pharmacology in respiratory therapy helps in diagnosing, assessing, managing, and treating cardiopulmonary disease.
  • Respiratory Care Research and Issues: A portion of online degree programs in respiratory therapy are dedicated to research and reviewing literature on respiratory care. In taking this course, students will learn how to properly conduct research, produce research papers, and critique published research, aimed at improving respiratory therapy.
  • Respiratory Therapy Capstone: This course comes as the culmination of what students have learned throughout the program. Here, students will conduct research that utilizes the theories and practices in respiratory therapy that they have learned. The project will have an oral presentation and will be backed by written documentation, both of which will be graded by instructors.
  • Leadership and Management: Bachelor’s degrees in respiratory therapy prepare learners for management roles in the future, which is why leadership courses are found in most curricula. In taking one, students will learn how to effectively manage healthcare teams, develop patient care plans, and communicate with patients. It also teaches the impact of leadership on the respiratory care setting and nurtures qualities that can help students become leaders.
  • Adult and Neonatal Respiratory Care: Besides regular patients, respiratory therapists deal with older people as well as infants. Courses focused on this topic teach students the finer points in assessing, diagnosing, managing, and treating the respiratory conditions of infants and seniors.

When students graduate from a respiratory therapy program, they will be faced with a number of potential employers. If they are looking to earn back what they invested in education as early as possible, they can seek employment in hospitals, which provide the highest average annual income at $63,090 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021). Additionally, sectors like offices of physicians ($61,160) and nursing care facilities ($61,060) are not far behind when it comes to compensation.

Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics 2021

Things to Look for in an Online Bachelor’s Degree in Respiratory Therapy

The curricula of online degree programs are sometimes different in structure and composition, which may confuse applicants. Some programs concentrate heavily on particular fields while others favor a more well-rounded approach. To make sure a student arrives at the most ideal program, there are several factors to consider:

  • Availability and Accessibility: Many online degrees are not reserved for local learners; they also cater to international students. Although some institutions offer programs at a fixed rate, there are schools that have specific charges for in-state, out-of-state, and international students. The annual fees of online degree programs range from $7,000 to $31,000, which caters to learners from different income brackets. Meanwhile, students who lack the funds to go with the pricier options can apply for financial aid programs offered by the schools.
  • Teaching Methods: Online respiratory therapy programs are typically administered fully online, with the teaching methods applied in some courses varying based on an institution’s leveraged technology. Some schools are equipped with sophisticated applications that perfectly simulate the tools used in the trade and even grant students a better view of procedures compared to on-campus classes. Furthermore, video conferencing and instructional videos are also leveraged in some courses. These technological advancements, according to recent online education statistics, lend credence to the 55% of schools that admitted they were able to maintain their high academic standards through the COVID-19 pandemic (Hanson, 2021).
  • Hidden Costs: Online education may be more affordable than on-campus programs but it has its share of hidden costs. These include technology-related expenses, teacher salaries, technical support, and course development. In addition, students who lack the equipment for distance learning will have to purchase the necessary tools and applications.
  • Accreditation: Accredited online degrees have been vetted by experts, proven to promote learning in all the critical areas of respiratory therapy. To ensure that they will apply for a program that is most beneficial to their careers, students can check if the degrees they are interested in have been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC) and approved by other similar organizations. The CoARC website lists down all the accredited programs.
  • Reputation: Some schools are well known in the healthcare industry for producing exceptional respiratory therapists. With this, students can prioritize institutions that have popular respiratory therapy programs to have an edge when applying for jobs. Moreover, graduating from a reputable institution could increase the likelihood of landing high-paying jobs out of the country.
  • Support Services: Having support services brings convenience to both students and teachers. If there are issues with some of the learning management software’s features or if the class has trouble accessing any of the modules, the support team can quickly provide solutions. This saves everyone time and effort since they will not be dealing with software-related concerns.
  • Other Considerations: Besides completing all online degree courses, students will also have to pass the licensure exam given by the National Board for Respiratory Care if they are to pursue respiratory therapy professionally. A lot of preparation is necessary since the Therapist Multiple-Choice exam is considered difficult so it pays to be in an online program that can provide you with resources that will help you with the review. As far as its contents are concerned, the exam tackles all knowledge areas of respiratory therapy, with most of the questions possibly about mechanical ventilation (27%), patient assessment (9%), pharmacology (7%), and airway management (7%) (Respiratory Therapy Zone, 2020).

Is Respiratory Therapy the Right Program for You?

There are several good reasons to take up an online bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy. The careers that a program leads to are in-demand and will always be relevant in modern society. After all, respiratory diseases have always plagued humanity, more so now with the currently ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As such, the job growth over the next 10 years is higher than that of other healthcare practitioners and other occupations (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021). The pay is also respectable.

As for the subject matter, students will learn a broad range of skills, theories, and practices aimed at treating and managing various respiratory conditions. Moreover, associate degree holders will gain the competencies they need to get promoted or apply for managerial positions. They can even go on to establish their own clinics if they choose to. Graduates have numerous possibilities to explore.

For students who would rather deal with sports injuries than respiratory ailments, there is a healthcare discipline that centers on the human body’s physical condition. Read this comprehensive guide on kinesiology degrees to learn more.



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